It was a big deal at Sundance – the breakthrough movie, they were saying, for British comedian Steve Coogan in the US. Somehow I doubt it.
Coogan plays Dana Marschz , a resting actor formerly best known for his Herpecol ads. “I'm having herpes outbreak, but you'd never know it.". These days he’s working for peanuts conducting a high school drama class in Tucson, Arizona. His class are mostly disinterested and the red-necked school principal is keen to shut the whole thing down. To make matters worse his wife Brie (played brilliantly by Catherine Keener) is about to leave him, fed up by his lack of resources, his whimsy and his other-worldly faith in the universal healing power of drama.
The plot is a conventional, teasing take on those dozens of movies about inspirational teachers and drama/dance classes bringing students together against an unfair school authority. Coogan does fecklessness very well – tapping into a long line of comedic British fecklessness from Stanley Laurel to Peter Sellers.
Faced with his drama program being closed down, his character Marschz has to produce an illicitly staged musical called Hamlet 2 which takes the Shakespeare play and gives it a happy ending. There’s nothing new about this. Thomas Bowdler overhauled Shakespeare’s plays (to make them less sexualised) in the 19th Century – the origin of the term Bowdlerization.
The climax is the staging when everything comes right – it looks as glossy as Broadway production (yeah, right) and the national press are there to report on the school trying to close the whole thing down. Initially the musical is perceived as very un-PC with songs such as Rock Me Sexy Jesus. Frankly, there’s nothing un-PC about the show we see. Director Andrew Fleming pulls his punches. His background of soft-peddled TV comedy-drama just doesn’t equip him with that extra bit of sourness he needs. Hamlet 2 been marketed as a South Park relative; Nancy Drew would be more accurate.
This not a bad film. It has some great moments, but it does feel oddly underpowered. Everything feels just a tiny bit threadbare.
Coogan had yet to find his knock-out, world-beating Hollywood role.
** Two Stars out of Five