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REVIEW | Dream On: Tom Gustafson’s “Were the World Mine”

REVIEW | Dream On: Tom Gustafson's "Were the World Mine"

The least one could ask of a wish-fulfillment fantasy film is a little buoyancy and breeziness. Yet for all its good-natured intentions, Tom Gustafson‘s “Were the World Mine,” in which a put-upon small-town gay teen converts his hopelessly straight town (including his corn-fed jock crush) to the pink team with the help of a magical, squirting purple pansy, is a mostly leaden affair, suffering as it does from a lack of realization and clarity. A film can’t simply be “light as a feather” or contagiously sweet by virtue of its conception, but rather by the fine, clean lines of its craft. And this is no simple matter of budget: oodles of ingenuity have historically been wrung from more impoverished film productions than this one.

Using “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” as a launching pad (a text one might say at this point, especially in queer-tinged cinema and theater, has been “done to death”), Tom Gustafson fashions a flimsy fable about a high schooler, Timothy (Tanner Cohen), recently out to his classmates and his single mother (Judy McLane), who is inspired by his ethereal, elfin English teacher (Wendy Robie, best remembered in certain circles as the terrifying Nancy Reagan-with-a-butcher-knife “Mother” in Wes Craven‘s “The People Under the Stairs“) to take part in the school’s staging of Shakespeare’s classic romantic comedy of transformation. Of course the magic spills over into the “real world,” but Gustafson so poorly creates visual or emotional distinctions between reality and fantasy (save a handful of borderline trashy, badly choreographed dream sequences) that the whole thing gets bogged down in a repetitive drabness.

The film’s general lack of spatial sense, played out in a series of ill-framed and patched together shots, might be the result of a filmmaker who uses “Moulin Rouge” and “Dancer in the Dark” as reference points for the contemporary musical rather than, say, “Gigi” or “On the Town” (rarely does Gustafson let a scene play out; he’s always busy jumping to the next one). Whatever one thinks of them, the controlled chaos of those recent forays into deconstructed musical filmmaking was carefully, calculatedly shambolic; these were works from filmmakers who had already played by the rulebook before throwing it out the window.

A pseudo-musical, “Were the World Mine” uses the contemporary convention of song as release from a stunted reality. So rather than fully integrated, its handful of tunes (lyrics adapted from Shakespeare) are jarring escapes, and for Gustafson excuses to more fully splash his otherwise lifeless canvas with garish colors and glittering set design. If only he had been less tentative. For it’s these moments, with their Pierre et Gilles-esque images of shirtless, nubile young men in gaudily classical tableaux and their unexpectedly lovely chords and harmonies from composer Jessica Fogle, that resonate the most.

“Were the World Mine” needs to be an explosion–of angst, of youthful rebellion, of pubescent sexual desire; instead it’s mostly a shrug. Despite a game cast (Cohen is likable and button-cute, and Nathaniel David Becker makes for a goofy, attainably average lust object), its central idea never catches fire. The latent sexual longing needs to burst forth with the music; it need not be explicit, but it should be a spectacle, something closer in spirit to Randy Weiner‘s “Midsummer” theater adaptation-cum-dance party “The Donkey Show.” Instead it all just ends with an annoying post-play emo shindig fronted by Robin Williams‘s daughter. All the world may be a stage, but if this is what’s going to be on it, take me back to the days of cornets and lutes.

[Michael Koresky is co-founder and editor of Reverse Shot and the managing editor and staff writer of the Criterion Collection.]

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“Post-play emo shindig”??? You do realize that that song was still part of the original midsummer’s night dream – Pyramus and Thisbe is the play within a play done by the craftsman (Usually referred to in shakespeare classes as ‘the mechanicals’.) It is performed for everyone before they go to bed the night before the wedding.

While I agree there is a TON that could have been done to make this show better (Like have more full songs if you’re going to bill it as a musical…) this reviewer comes across like he has a personal score to settle with Gustafson or something.

martin dantich

“suffering as it does from a lack of realization and clarity” is scathing commentary? “so poorly creates visual or emotional distinctions between reality and fantasy” is a baseless insult? “general lack of spatial sense, played out in a series of ill-framed and patched together shots” seems to be a very specific way of pointing out technical flaws, something most film critics have little interest in or time for. Obviously the angry commenters on here think a seemingly adorable little film such as this one should be above honest film criticism (that looks at the construction and concept of a film rather than the good nature intended), and that filmmakers with low budgets shouldn’t be held to the same standards a studio filmmakers. Or they’re involved in the production of the film somehow. Granted the last line of the review is rather bitchy, but otherwise I can’t comprehend the anger directed at the review unless you have personal stake in this film. For the record I thought the movie was perfectly fine, but nothing to get mouth-frothing and self-defensive about. Geesh, go read Peter Travers if you want thoughtless, baseless praise.


This reviewer is dull and obnoxious to a pretty incredible degree. I don’t see a single line of meaningful, well-argued, or useful criticism in this whole piece – just childish insult after arbitrary objection, combined with a persistent and transparently obvious need for the author to show off his Sophisticated Inside Knowledge of cinematic and theatrical history. This, of course, is meant to justify his acidic, disgustingly patronizing commentary and stuffily uninspired point of view to the reader.

Simply disliking the choreography, or editing, or whatever else the author finds wrong with the film, doesn’t need to be expressed by prepending scornful and demeaning adjectives to every description of or reference to a character. It’s pathetic, and I really cannot understand why any respectable site would hire someone like this as a reviewer. At least Simon Cowell is entertaining, and generally correct. This article isn’t bluntly honest – it’s just scathing and chronically disgruntled.

Personally, I saw flaws in the film. But there were also scenes which were so mesmerizing and brilliant that they couldn’t help but transport me. Sure, it could’ve used a bigger budget and a little more experienced…everything. But it doesn’t make the underlying artistry any less explosive.

I agree with those below: four stars.


says you. not the nytimes – saw 2 full columns in todays paper. critics’ pick!!!


says you.


What a dreary jerk this reviewer is. This isn’t a critique, it’s just a bunch of baseless insults. He clearly has no idea what he’s talking about – one could easily argue the opposite of all his arbitrary points. Only the most cynical ass wouldn’t see the joy in this film. Who hires these people? Boo!

I agree. 4 stars!


this movie should have been better.


ugh – when i first saw this trailer i yearned to see this movie and sought out the film to screen it. After watching it, I absolutely fell in love with the movie and proceeded to watch the movie prolly more than 20 times now. Although, the plot develop of the film could be vamped and restructured but in my opinion this make take the award for the best gay movie of the year. Becker delivered a great performance but my bias might be coming out as he reminds me so much of myself. We have to remember this is a story about a group of high school kids and i think confusion of the characters matches the age of those gay kids are struggling with.

I would give this film 4 stars.

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