Movie Magazine International

Scotland, PA

USA - 2001

Movie Review By Casey McCabe

A couple things that make Bill Shakespeare attractive to filmmakers: the guy could really spin a tale. And he's been dead 400 years. That means his work now dwells in that magical place called the public domain, where we are all free to have our way with him.

Having established the dearth of original material, the quandary for filmmakers adapting Shakespeare is one of proper reverence. Is he timeless because his lyric words still resonate? Or is he timeless because Hamlet could just as easily be a corporate executive brooding in Manhattan? And if Shakespeare were alive today, surely he would have come up with Baz Lurhman’s idea of putting The Butthole Surfers on the Romeo and Juliet soundtrack.Right?.

So you have to tip your hat to the new film "Scotland, PA" which not only riffs wildly on Shakespeare's MacBeth, it also manages to mock everyone else who has been plundering the Bard with fresh perspectives. The tragic rumination on ambition and betrayal set in medieval Scotland becomes a highly comic rumination on ambition and betrayal set in a fast-food restaurant in small town Pennsylvania in the 1970s with a lot of Bad Company on the soundtrack. And thus under writer/director Billy Morrissette's inspiration, Shakespeare has officially claimed even the lowest rung of the cultural ladder.

James LeGros and Morrissette's wife, Maura Tierney play Joe and Pat McBeth, a married couple still madly in love, toiling as fry cook and waitress at the local hash house while nurturing lofty dreams of managing the hash house. Owner, Mr. Duncan, played by James Rebhorn, plans to take Joe's visionary ideas of drive thru windows and deep fried nuggets made of chicken, but give the promotion to his rebellious hard rock son, Malcom, played by Tom Guiry. Shakespeare's heckling witches become three stoners, played by Andy Dick, Amy Smart and Timothy Speed Levitch, and when Duncan is deep fried to death, Joe and Pat's dream comes true....but not without arousing the suspicions of police detective and vegetarian Ernie McDuff, as rendered by Christopher Walken, and of their increasingly wary best friend and fellow fry cook Anthony "Banco" Banconi, played by Kevin Corrigan.

About two-thirds through the movie when Duncan's restaurant becomes McBeth's drive in, we see the big McBeth's sign given the McDonald's logo treatment and get the feeling this was the shot Morrissey had been working toward the whole time. Indeed, Morrissey claims the idea first came to him as a teenager working at a Dairy Queen where he started entertaining fantasies of killing his boss. But despite being sharp, contemporary and often quite funny, Morrissey's McBeth is forced to work overtime in its attempt to balance homage, satire and cohesive story. Final score: too clever by about half. Yet amusing enough to be worth the effort.

One last thing: Morrissey has opened himself up to the wrath of scholars. I think most historians have established that by the time Bad Company's self titled album was released in the mid-70s, the drive-thru restaurant was already established, making Joe McBeth’s so-called vision a complete joke. Bill Shakespeare would never have made that mistake

© 2002 - Casey McCabe - Air Date: 1/02

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