Shakespeare ... In and Out (1999) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)
Shakespeare ... In and Out is an ultra low budget
mockumentary. Given that it is produced by Troma Pictures and takes
place in the adult film industry, you would expect it to have
amateurish production values and to be gross and sophomoric, but
probably also to be good for a few laughs. Your guesses would be mostly
wrong. The production values are poor, but necessarily so. (It's
part of the premise.) The film is
actually ... well ... I hate to use the word when discussing a Troma
film ... "sensitive." Oh, sure, not sensitive in the sense that
Meryl Streep would consider a part in it, but sensitive in that it
creates a genuine sympathy for and involvement with the lead
character as if he were a real person. It is also tame, non-violent,
and kinda sweet. Not one severed limb. Obviously, that is not what
you would expect from a Troma project about the porno industry.
The set-up is as follows. Sixteen years ago, a filmmaker had a dream to film an ordinary person, chosen at random, at age six, then again sixteen years later. He managed to film the first half of the documentary, but died before he could complete the second half, so his son had to take up the mantle, and did so willingly, to honor his father. By the time the project was to be completed, the ordinary six year old had grown up to be an actor ... of sorts. Rich Longfellow caught the acting bug when he was a small child and dreamt of playing Shakespeare, but his pursuit of a classical stage career got him shunted off onto the sidetrack of the adult film business.
That premise allows the two filmmakers (the real filmmaker and the fictional one portrayed on film) the freedom to study the porno business and its impact on the lives of its participants. In that context, the film looks at "Rich" and examines his inner conflict between the obvious appeal of being a hot stud porn star with the attendant babes and bucks, and the fact that committing to the porno life means abandoning his dream to play Hamlet.
Considering the absence of production values (deliberately done to make the film-within-a-film seem authentic), this mockumentary succeeds in one very important way. It manages to suspend audience disbelief at times and create an engaging lead character. There were times when I forgot that the project was a joke and was wondering such things as, "what would happen to Rich Longfellow if he left porn?" Joint credit for achieving a surprisingly high level of involvement goes to Peter Shustari, who wrote and directed this project, and Roger Shank, who created Rich Longfellow by doing an impersonation of Mark Wahlberg in Boogie Nights, making his character an ingratiating, naive person who sometimes gets lost in life by taking regrettable detours, but cannot ever really hide the fact that he is always basically a nice kid inside. He's the contemporary equivalent of "the hooker with a heart of gold."
As a mockumentary, "Shakespeare ... In and Out" falls way short on the laughs. It just isn't very funny at all. On the other hand, as a simple story about a lost man trying to find himself, it has a poignancy that the auteur may not even have intended, and you may actually find yourself rooting for the poor schmuck to get his chance at Hamlet and, when he does get it, hoping he doesn't screw up completely.
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