With limited funds, debut features helmer Tom Gustafson expands his short “Fairies” into a full-scale musical in “Were the World Mine,” but the clunky script keeps pulling everything to an earthbound level well below the desired airy realm. Ambitious in intent but weak in execution, pic strives for a playful merger of young gay desire with “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” as a high school student invokes Puck’s magic formula to enchant an entire community. Despite the film’s flaws, fest auds have been awarding it their prize, and limited pickup for niche markets seems likely.
Timothy (Tanner Cohen) is an “out” student at Morgan Hill, a private school his mom Donna (Judy McLane) struggles to afford. Surrounded by homophobic classmates, Timothy is only comfortable hanging out with cool out-of-school friend Frankie (Zelda Williams) and her b.f. Max (Ricky Goldman).
English teacher Mrs. Tebbit (Wendy Robie, insufferably fey) presses her whole class into duty for a musical production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” casting Timothy as Puck once she discovers he’s got an admirable singing voice. Also showcased is Timothy’s crush Jonathon (Nathaniel David Becker), the school’s star rugby player.
When longing gets the better of reason, Timothy concocts a love potion from Puck’s own recipe, accidentally squirting Max, who immediately succumbs to a passion for his uninterested friend. During rehearsal, Timothy finally anoints Jonathon, along with the rest of the school and half the town, creating havoc when parents see sons making out with male classmates and even nasty Coach Driskill (Christian Stolte) professes love for Principal Bellinger (David Darlow). Just as in the play itself, all will be mended by the time the curtain falls.
Joss Whedon could probably have turned this promising material into gold, as he did with similar storylines on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” but Gustafson and co-scripter Cory James Krueckeberg lack his lightness of touch, instead offering poorly conceived relationships and dumbed-down caricatures. Would a boys’ school principal really argue against students playing female leads? Would door-to-door cosmetics queen Nora Kay (Jill Larson) really drop Donna once she learns her son is gay? Such hamfisted touches feel medieval in what’s supposed to be a contempo tale.
Dialogue, too, can sound lifted from some cute neutered version of “Picnic,” as when an enchanted Jonathon says, “People are just jealous because I’m with the best fella in town.” Far better are the lyrics, edited from Shakespeare and surprisingly effective paired with Jessica Fogle’s pleasant tunes, reminiscent of late 20th-century Broadway and nicely sung by the appealing young cast.
Thesps are largely drawn from non-film quarters, and relative newcomer Cohen shows he can both belt out a number and transcend a pedestrian characterization. As Timothy’s friend Frankie, Williams (daughter of Robin) gives off a glow that lingers beyond her brief scenes. Same can’t be said for Robie or the cartoonish Larson (Opal on soap “All My Children”).
Interpolation of songs into storyline is nicely handled, though the choreography leaves little impression. Projection problems at festival screening meant the transfer from Super 16 appeared to give the whole a dark, dull cast: Sharpened colors would have provided some of the oomph this nicely conceived but undistinguished pic lacks. Shooting took place in and around Chicago.