Dir. Tom Gustafson
(2008, Not Rated, 92 min)
★ ★

It’s that old story: A young man sings, “Up and down and up and down, I will lead them up and down,” and then sprays juice from his magic flower that turns everyone gay.

Don’t worry, it’s Shakespeare … sort of.

Honestly, I’m not sure what to do with Were the World Mine. It starts as a very conventional gay coming-of-age drama populated mostly by stock characters: Tim (Tanner Cohen), a gay teen bullied at an all-boys school; Donna (Judy McClane), his disapproving mother who gradually learns acceptance; Frankie (Zelda Williams), his queer-friendly BFF; Coach Driskill (Christian Stolte), who would rather his players focus on rugby than on girly nonsense like Shakespeare; and of course Jonathon (Nathaniel David Becker), the possibly closeted jock on whom Tim hopelessly crushes. It’s all completely familiar, from the okay-to-be-gay affirmations to the generic bigotry of the students and townspeople. The story runs on autopilot. I longed for a spark of originality, but when the film goes off the deep end I kind of wished it were still going through the motions.

Tim, cast as Puck in the school’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, discovers the recipe for “love-in-idleness,” a flower that produces an elixir to make people fall in love with whomever they look upon next. There’s a campy music video that plays like Baz Luhrmann-lite, and voila! You’ve got a magic flower. He uses it on Jonathon, but angry at his bigoted peers he sprays his love juice everywhere — okay, I’m done now — and creates a gay, free-love revolution in his small town.

From this point, the film stops working for me. The realism of the early scenes is replaced abruptly by total fantasy, with elements of screwball comedy mixed awkwardly with romantic melodrama — there is a montage of characters singing to themselves, “The course of true love never did run smooth”; a similar device was used to great effect in Magnolia and Donnie Darko, but here it just feels indulgent.

The whole film is indulgent. There’s little consistency or focus. The pieces don’t fit together. My thought: They should have dropped the up-front realism and made the whole thing a gay musical version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, or else keep the realism and have the fantasy play out in his imagination as his method of coping with high school isolation. Either way, director and co-writer Tom Gustafson should have picked a path and stuck to it.