Scotland, PA


          I once took a playwriting class in which the instructor suggested that if
  we were facing writer's block, we should plunder classic literature for plots that
  could be somehow made contempory. Of course, he suggested that Shakespeare
  offers the best opportunities (after all, the Bard also stole most of his stories
  from other sources). I don't know if actor-turned-filmmaker Billy Morrissette
  ever studied with the same man (or any of his acolytes), but he clearly hit on
  the same idea when he made
SCOTLAND, PA., a fitfully amusing comedy that
  moves the plot of
Macbeth to the world of fast-food restaurants in 1970s America.
  Screened at Sundance in 2001,
SCOTLAND, PA. earned some positive notices
  and Lot 47 Films picked it up for release.

          It's 1972 and Joe and Pat McBeth (James LeGros and Maura Tierney, who
  at the time happened to be Mrs. Billy Morrissette) toil away at a local diner run
  by Norm Duncan (James Rebhorn). They keep things running smoothly and fully
  expect to see Joe promoted when the present manager is caught with his hand
  in the till. Instead, Norm opts for nepotism, appointing his long-haired rocker
  wannabe son Malcolm (Thomas Guiry) to the position. With Pat's encouragement
  and the advice of a trio of acid-tripping hippies (Andy Dick, Timothy 'Speed'
  Levitch and Amy Smart), Joe decides to take matters into his own hands. (It
  seems Joe has a dream about a drive-through window and hamburgers.) The
  rest of the plot more or less adheres to the original. If you know the Scottish
  play well, you can enjoy the spins that Morrissette applies to the material. If
  for some reason you skipped those days in school and are clueless, well, I
  won't spoil your fun.

          As I said, a large part of the pleasure of watching
SCOTLAND, PA. stems
  from the modern analogies that Morrissette devised. The trio of hippies standing
  in for the three weird sisters is one. The whole idea of setting the story in the
  nascent world of fast food is another. (Joe's ideas include bite-sized pieces of
  chicken and dipping sauces, etc.) Turning one of Shakespeare's tragedies into
  a satire of big business is a risky thing, but Morrissette manages to pull it off.
  It's only because the material is inherently a tragedy that undercuts the full
  effect. The comedy is never laugh out loud, but the writer-director does hit his
  targets. (It's surprising that the owners of a certain franchise haven't sued him.)

          The cast for the most part carries off the conceit. James LeGros does fairly
  well as Joe 'Mac' McBeth, with his red-arched dream of a franchise of hamburger
  stands. It's only near the end when things veer to the dramatic and Joe has
  become somewhat unhinged that the actor falters a bit. Not so Maura Tierney
  who is terrific as Pat, the schemer who desires to move up in the world, but
  who becomes unglued over a burn on her hand. Having proven her versatility
  on TV, succeeding in both comedy (
NewsRadio) and drama (ER), she gets
  to display her capabilities in both genres and more than excels. James Rebhorn
  cuts an appropriately strong Duncan while Thomas Guiry as his musician son
  and newcomer Geoff Dunsworth as his younger boy Donald are both fine. Kevin
  Corrigan is excellent as Anthony Banconi, best pal of the McBeth's who becomes
  vaguely suspicious of their success. Christopher Walken lends his uniquely
  oddball presence to the role of the relatively normal detective Ernie McDuff.

          There have been many settings for Shakespeare's play, both on stage in
  its original glory and on film. (Orson Welles famously moved the setting to Haiti
  and Akira Kurosawa turned it into a samurai epic.) Still, I think
SCOTLAND, PA.
  may be the first time someone mined the material for humor. Billy Morrissette
  deserves kudos for making the attempt and almost succeeding.



                                  Rating:                B-
                                  MPAA Rating:       R for language, some nudity, drug content
                                                              and brief violence
                                  Running time:       104 mins.
© 2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.