Scotland, PA – 4 out of 5
While I was in college, I discovered this movie thanks to my brother-in-law and thought it was very cool. I began telling all of my friends, colleagues and even professors about this neat adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Scottish play. For one reason or another after I graduated I forgot about the film and it wasn’t until I found myself stumbling into a Shakespeare troupe in Milwaukee (Boozy Bard Productions, check us out if you are in the area) that I remembered this one—ending up playing the lead role in Billy Shakes’ famously cursed play also helped jog the memory. Our troupe every October ends our season with our unique production of Macbeth (and I say “unique” because we perform unrehearsed and in various stages of inebriation—are you interested in checking it out yet?) and to celebrate a great season, I decided to dig out Scotland, PA and check it out again. The damn movie still holds up!
|Since I've played Macbeth on stage twice and James Le Gros is playing a version|
of Macbeth here, we have something in common and a conversation
starter for the time we never actually meet.
|It's so simple but I find a fast food joint called|
"McBeth's" to be hysterical.
In 1975 in the small town of Scotland, PA, Norm Duncan (James Rebhorn) operates a small but successful food establishment and it is in this restaurant that Joe “Mac” McBeth (James Le Gros) and his wife Pat McBeth (Maura Tierney) work. Pat sees Mac in something far better than the position he works in but sees he lacks the motivation to make himself a manager. Then, one drunken night, he is visited by three hippies (Amy Smart, Timothy “Speed” Levitch and Andy Dick) and they tell him that he will one day run the restaurant after he implements a revolutionary idea called the drive-thru. Pat convinces Mac to murder Duncan and, in doing so, give them an opportunity to buy the restaurant. As their company grows, Mac becomes increasingly paranoid that his crime will be revealed by his best friend; Anthony “Banko” Banconi (Kevin Corrigan), and the lead investigator of Duncan’s murder; Lieutenant McDuff (Christopher Walken).
|The most unbelievable part of this movie is the fact that it took any convincing |
for an unappreciated and underpaid employee to kill his boss.
I really like it when people take established properties and adapt them in inventive new ways. That’s one of the biggest reasons Scotland, PA spoke to me because it was retelling the cautionary tale of Macbeth by putting it in the 70s and, rather than it be about a man who is pushed to be king by his wife, it’s about a man pushed to take over his boss’ fortune. If you’re familiar at all with the original play, you see that the basic tale is essentially the same and so are the morals and lessons learned. I often hear people say they don’t “get” Shakespeare or that the man’s plays are “too smart” for them but this movie proved that the playwright’s stories are inherently grounded and are pretty much timeless.
|Did the curse of the play ever rear its ugly head on set?|
I’m not a scholar of Shakespeare in any way but I’m familiar enough with Macbeth to see that Scotland, PA was a very faithful translation. The story was able to incorporate the witches (in this case, hippies) and their prophecies about Macbeth’s rise to power and fall from grace without it feeling like these elements were forced in. Writer/director Billy Morrissette was also able to weave in original characters’ name in a way where they didn’t feel out of place; for example, the character of Banquo being turned into Anthony “Banko” Banconi. Additionally, the film was able to take other, more difficult elements to adapt, like how Lady Macbeth is driven insane by guilt and has hallucinations of a bloody spot on her hand after the murder of Duncan or how Macbeth sees the ghost of Banquo after being declared King, and made them work for the reality of the film’s world. In this case, Mac is seeing the ghost of Banko at their Grand Opening ceremony and the damn spot that Pat can’t remove is a grease burn that she got from the murder of Duncan but still believes is there long after it heals. The way that Morrissette was able to incorporate and cultivate these plot points and the entire story from the infamous Scottish play and transform them into a tale about a former fry cook who is influenced to murder his boss and take over the business in the 1970s is just a lot of fun and really made for a very amusing dark comedy.
|More like "Ow, damn spot," amirite? I'll be here all week!|
|Like 99% of the world, I too do a Walken impression.|
From a performance standpoint, I think this movie is pretty top notch. It’s got Christopher Walken, for crying out loud, and he’s very fun as McDuff. Who doesn’t love that guy? Anyway, I really loved James Le Gros as Mac because he really nails that transition of a timid guy who is about to just allow opportunity to pass him by to a man who is convinced to seize that opportunity but then takes it in a very wrong direction. Matching him step-for-step as his lady, Maura Tierney is so awesome as this tale’s Lady Macbeth because she has that right blend of being conniving but also is able to capture the mental breakdown in a way that matches with the dark comedy tone. The only parts of the cast I didn’t care for were the hippies. They weren’t really bad but they definitely weren’t very memorable—especially when you consider how awesome any scene with the witches is in the original play.
|I'll be honest, a bigger reason I didn't care for the hippies is because of Andy Dick.|
Scotland, PA is a fantastic retelling of one of Shakespeare’s best works. The cast is fantastic, the atmosphere has the perfect balance to hit the dark tones and themes of the play but also has the right amount of humor (although without the abundance of dick jokes. Billy Shakes loved them dick jokes) and the whole thing is just a fun way of bringing Shakespeare to a new audience. This is one of those hidden gems of a film that I wish was more well-known and I think I might return to the guy I was in college and tell everyone I know about it. At the very least, it’s going to be a yearly tradition that I watch it before Boozy Bard is about to starts its Scottish play production.