February 26th, 2002
I have to admit something here. I've never brushed up on my Shakespeare much in my life. I saw a couple of Shakespeare Santa Cruz productions during my late teen/early twenties years, and I've seen a number of movie adaptations of Shakespeare plays from the likes of Olivier and Branagh and Polanski and Zefferelli and Luhrmann. But I'm not like my ex-wife or Lolita, both whom have grandiose volumes of Billy Shakes' works and can recite entire passages at will.
I'm one of those guys can get away with saying "To be or not to be, that is the question" or "Alas, poor Yorick, I knew him well" and appear to be slightly literate. I also know a bit about the argument of whom actually wrote the works of Shakespeare, not just from some half assed Gwyneth Paltrow movie either, and I am aware that much of The Godfather is based on Coriolanus.
What is the point in all this? That when I decided to go see Billy Morrisette's new film Scotland, PA, I went in knowing it was a loose adaptation of The Scottish Play but was more interested in seeing the likes of Christopher Walken and James LeGros than I was playing "spot the Shakespeare references". Lolita's the resident Bard freak on this site. She's got this book of Shakespeare's work that's 2,350 plus pages. It's got every damn play, sonnet, song, movie, grocery list, suicide note and lists of MP3s he wanted to download sorted by decade, musical genre and artist. I borrowed this book from Lolita last month, because the lock on my front door broke and it keeps the vampires from tearing at my flesh while I sleep. You see, when I first moved to New York, I met a couple of goth chicks at a rave in Brooklyn and took them back to my place. I invited them in, and when I didn't call them back after our night of passion, these bitches hound me all night. That book, along with the crosses I painted on my doors and windows, are the only things that keep me alive every night. But that's another story for another day.
Lolita knew I was going to see the film with some friends, so she suggested I meet them at McBeth's, this place down by Union Square the distributor of the film set up as a sort of fast food Shakespeare outlet. Lolita hangs out at the Gap near Union Square all the time, flirting with Jose, this Guatemalan guy who works in the Kids section. She took me into the Gap once and pointed Jose out to me. I think he's one step from full John Leguizamo To Wong Foo drag queen extraordinaire, but if Lolita wants to date someone who deep down wants to be Charo, who am I to complain? Except the jailbait queen made it sound like it was a regular burger joint when she told me about it. Imagine my shock when I walk in expecting to save my friends a booth and find myself face to face with two guys performing Romeo and Juliet in a storefront performance space about half the size of a SoHo loft. There were illicit giggles from the six or so others gathered inside, as I apparently walked in just as this Josh Charles look-alike (or maybe it was Josh Charles, since I haven't seen hide nor hair of him since ABC cancelled "Sports Night") asked Romeo where for art thou. I stuck around for a while, as all my loser buddies were late, and enjoyed snippets of plays and sonnets. Eventually, three of my loser friends showed up and we went off to have some grub at Duke's.
We finally get to the theatre and for a Tuesday night 930PM showing, it's surprisingly packed. Granted, the theatre only seats like 200 or so, but it's got THX sound. And you know, an indie movie about American life in the mid 1970s just screams out for the best Monster Cables and JBL speakers money can buy. You think I'm joking, but I'm not. This is the decade when rock and roll really started to die, and this film's soundtrack is chock full of the crap rock Bad Company and their ilk perfected, which sounds marginally better blasting out at high decibels through an enhanced Dolby SR system. After fifteen minutes of truly crappy previews, the movie begins. Scotland, Pennsylvania, is this small town hell hole with the kind of small town hell hole people you only find in these independent movies. You know, the real quirky types who sit around and have all-night Yahtzee tournaments in bars.
Maura Tierney and James LeGros play the McBeths, Joe and Pat, the whitest of white trash lowlifes, who slave away for Norm Duncan (James Rebhorn) at his donut shop-cum-burger joint, while dreaming of a better life for themselves. Joe's got plans, you see. He dreams of his own burger joint, with a drive thru window where people can place orders without getting out of their cars. They hatch a plan to move forward with Joe's dream, but things going horribly awry, as things must happen at Plot Point I. Norm dies, and the McBeths find themselves in possession of Duncan's restaurant, as neither of his sons want anything to do with the family business. In quick succession... and I do mean quick, like within a month... Duncan's becomes McBeth's, replete not only with a drive-thru window but with an almost familiar arched "M" above the entrance. Business is booming, and the parking lot is packed with the best muscle cars of the day. But what comes up must indeed come down, and this is where McBeth's antagonist, McDuff (Christopher Walken), must enter. Now a vegetarian lieutenant from out of town assigned to the case, McDuff finds the people of Scotland, PA, to be a strangely friendly lot indeed, particularly Anthony "Banko" Banconi (Kevin Corrigan), Joe's friend, coworker and confidant. And the film continues down its path, as both Joe and Pat fall deeper into their individual psychosis, until its conclusion.
Now, why did I all of a sudden get quite abrupt in my summation? Those with some interest in the work of Shakespeare know what happens. But that's what makes Scotland, PA as great of a film as it is. It takes the familiar and puts a wonderfully unique spin on it. This is one of those films that you'll enjoy no matter how much you know going in, but will get more enjoyment out of the less you know. What you need to know is that Scotland, PA is a film you should seek out when your normal gigantoplex is sold out of their seven shows of We Were Soldiers, if the film even makes it to a theatre near you. Maura Tierney's turn as the bitch on wheels Pat comes as a shock to those who only know her as the mousy wench from "News Radio" and "ER". But then, her husband did write and direct the film, so he probably would know how to direct her. LeGros and Walken are solid, but that is to be expected. Andy Dick and Timothy "Speed" Levitch, who along with Amy Smart make up this story's ghostly tormentors, are rightfully annoying.
I suspect Scotland, PA will end up much like Heathers, admired by those fortunate enough to have seen it in theatres, later to be "discovered" by many on video, although I doubt the story will lost much translation going down to the cathode tube. If you keep a list of films you want to see one way or another, you would be doing yourself a service by keeping this film high up on that list.
My rating: A