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