Timothy, a gay teen, is cast in a musical version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He uses the play’s love potion to curse his tormentors with same sex attraction. Were the World Mine uses themes from Shakespeare’s play to create a queer fantasy. But the rebellious spirit of the title song is quickly squashed by melancholy ballads and gloomy introspection. It’s unclear what Timothy or his peers are meant to learn from the ordeal.
Disney’s Better Nate Than Ever inspired me to give World a fresh look. Both stories offer a gay outcast liberation through theater. Each features a supportive female friend, a savvy mentor and obnoxious bullies. Young Nate is coy about his sexuality while the older Timothy is eager to embrace his. And where Nate wants fame, Timothy wants revenge. The film tries to both empower Timothy and shame him for his behavior.
Let’s break it down in this spoiler filled recap.
Act One: Strife
Scene One: A Bad Day at School
(Timothy, a gay teen, is hit in the face with a dodge ball.)
JOCKS and COACH: We hate you, Timothy!
MUSICIAN FRIENDS: You gotta stand up for yourself Timothy!
MOTHER: If you’d stop being gay, they’d leave you alone Timothy!
DRAMA TEACHER: Audition for the play. “Awaken and empower what’s within.”
Scene Two: Auditions
(Timothy sings a ballad. Jonathon, a nice jock, stares.)
JONATHON: Great pipes. (Gooses Timothy.)
MUSICIAN FRIENDS: He wants you.
TIMOTHY: He doesn’t.
COACH: You can’t make my boys audition for your sissy play!
DRAMA TEACHER: Apparently, I can.
Scene Three: Dream Sequence
TIMOTHY: (Studies the script.) Puck places the potion on the mortal’s eyes. They love the next person they see. Wait. There’s an actual recipe in here.
FANTASY TIMOTHY: (Sings) I’ll use this potion to make the jocks fall in love with each other!
FANTASY JOCKS: (Sing) OMG! We’re gay now!
FANTASY JONATHON: (Sings) I love you, Timothy!
(The Jocks dance in sexy fairy costumes. Timothy wakes up.)
Act Two: Rebellion
Scene Four: Rehearsal
JOCKS: You suck, Timothy!
(Timothy sprays the jocks with the potion. They start making out with each other.)
JONATHON: I love you, Timothy!
TIMOTHY: Wait. Didn’t we just do this scene?
DRAMA TEACHER: That was the dream. This is the “reality.”
TIMOTHY: But there’s no significant contrast. Why not incorporate the musical number into the actual casting of the spell?
DRAMA TEACHER: Hush. Go kiss your new boyfriend.
Scene Five: Festival
TIMOTHY: I hate this town. I don’t want to go back to real life.
JONATHON: It’s not so bad. And this is real.
TIMOTHY: Tell me something about yourself. Why is your name spelled with two ”o’s”?
JONATHON: Well, I…
MUSICIAN FRIENDS: Sorry! We have to interrupt with some subplots! The cheerleaders are in love with the girl musician. She’s in love with the boy musician who’s in love with Timothy. The mean Coach is in love with the Principal. The Principal’s conservative wife is in love with Timothy’s mother. And the jocks are dancing ballet.
TIMOTHY: But we established that the jocks only dance in the dream sequence. Why does the potion teach them ballet?
JONATHON: Don’t overthink it. (Kisses him.)
Scene Six: School Assembly
ANGRY PARENTS: This school has turned our boys into sinners!
COACH: They’re just in love.
DRAMA TEACHER: (Casts a spell to calm the crowd.) So… I’m a fairy. And we’ll fix this at the play tonight.
COACH: Tonight? Didn’t you just start rehearsing? How much time has…
DRAMA TEACHER: Can’t talk. So busy. See you there!
Act Three: Harmony
Scene Seven: Park
DRAMA TEACHER: (Sings) Free will must be restored. We have to give them the antidote.
TOWNSFOLK: (Sing) Please give us the antidote. Unrequited love sucks!
TIMOTHY: All right. I wish I could sing a song about what’s going through my head. Or that I knew something… anything… about my love interest.
Scene Eight: School Play
TIMOTHY: Goodbye Jonathon.
(Timothy casts an antidote spell on the actors and audience.)
TIMOTHY: If we shadows have offended… whatever. The play’s over. Go home.
(The audience cheers!?)
JONATHON: Timothy you were wonderful! (Kisses him.)
TIMOTHY: So, the spell worked? But you still like me? Were you queer all along? And is everyone aware that I violated their boundaries with a highly problematic…
DRAMA TEACHER: Timothy?
TIMOTHY: Don’t overthink it. (Sighs.)
I Have Questions
I’m a very optimistic person – sometimes to a fault. But I truly do believe that people’s thinking can be changed by experiencing someone else’s struggle or joy.Writer/Director Tom Gustafson
Shakespeare’s fantasy establishes rules and an internal logic. Were The World Mine does not. Timothy’s queerness left him bitter and alone. He says he wants to put the bullies “in his shoes.” But he gave most of them companions. Only a handful had to face unrequited affection or homophobia. Why does the potion turn some people into gay stereotypes but not others? Why does everyone love Timothy once the spell is broken? Do they remember their consent being violated?
Writer/Director Tom Gustafson began the work as a 21-minute short film in 2003. The 2008 feature expanded the run time to 95 minutes. He adds side characters and subplots without developing the central romance. Timothy (Tanner Cohen) is sympathetic. His relationships with his mother (Judy McLane), best friend (Zelda Williams) and drama teacher (MVP Wendy Robie) are messy. But his boyfriend Jonathon (Nathaniel David Becker) is shamefully underwritten.
The queer teen musical is a rapidly growing genre. Were The World Mine lacks the polish of The Prom, Better Nate Than Ever or Everybody’s Talking About Jamie. But Timothy strikes a chord with me. I relate more to his rage and longing than to the plucky optimism of his peers. I keep coming back to this work despite its shortcomings.