Welcome to Harvey’s Hellhole, a monthly column devoted to spotlighting the movies that were poorly marketed, mishandled, reshaped, neglected or just straight-up destroyed by Harvey Weinstein during his reign as one of the most powerful studio chiefs in Hollywood. With William Shakespeare’s birthday — and his last day alive — both happening this month, let’s revisit the Bard-inspired teen romp Miramax released 21 years ago. (Side note: I wanted to write about Michael Almereyda’s Hamlet, also distributed by Miramax, but Roxana Hadadi beat me to it. Damn you, Roxana.)
The teen takeover of entertainment and popular culture in the late ‘90s and early aughts was an insane moment in time. The meta-teen slasher flick Scream (a Weinstein brothers production) got the ball rolling, leading the way for Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and *NSYNC to oversaturate the airwaves with their teen-friendly hits, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Dawson’s Creek to become appointment TV for the 13-and-up crowd, and multiplexes to get clogged with one film after another about teenagers.
Bob and Harvey, once again, set things off with She’s All That, the smash Pygmalion adaptation that’s best known these days for getting a script polish from — of all people — M. Night Shyamalan and spawning He’s All That, the Netflix remake that, when I first heard about it, I thought was a joke. The plays of William Shakespeare were reworked for adolescent audiences as well, from The Taming of the Shrew turning into 10 Things I Hate About You to Twelfth Night reshaped as the Amanda Bynes vehicle She’s the Man. (It’s worth noting that Julia Stiles became a recurring player in modern-day Shakespeare films, appearing in 10 Things, the Othello redo O and — yes! — Michael Almereyda’s Hamlet. Once again, damn you, Roxana.)
That screenwriter R. Lee Fleming, Jr. got with Miramax again to script yet another Bard-goes-to-high-school flick, the raucous rom-com Get Over It. Future, intense character actor Ben Foster stars as the weirdly-named Berke Landers, a teenager who goes off the deep end when his childhood BFF/girlfriend Allison (Melissa Sagemiller) breaks up with him and starts dating a British student (Shane West, tacking on a douchey accent) who’s also the frontman for a boy band called the Swing Town Lads. (Their biggest hit: “Luv S.C.U.D.”)
When Landers finds out that Allison and her new beau are auditioning for roles in a musical version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream — titled A Midsummer Night’s Rockin’ Eve — he plans to win her back by auditioning for the play as well. Before he can even process that this is, you know, stalking, he asks Kelly (Kirsten Dunst), the singer-songwriter sister of his horndog best friend (Colin Hanks) who’s also auditioning to be in the play, for advice and pointers on how to land a part. Even though Kelly is a talented smokeshow (there’s an obligatory bikini scene that makes that quite clear) who could get any guy she wants, she starts getting feelings for this pitiful sonofabitch, who spends most of the movie getting injured or humiliated in some capacity.
Over is littered with performers at the young, fresh-faced, Teen People-era point in their careers, including Mika Kunis, Zoe Saldana and Sisqo, Mr. “Thong Song” himself. But the constant scene-stealer in this cast is Martin Short, covered in flashy shirts and moussed-up hair (dude looks like a middle-aged guy trying to emulate Sugar Ray frontman Mark McGrath) as the pompous drama teacher who puts on the play.
Teen comedy nerds may feel Over is less a 21st-century revamp of Dream and more of a ripoff of Better Off Dead, that equally screwball ‘80s flick where John Cusack also played a high schooler whose life goes haywire after a breakup. LGBTQ director Tommy O’Haver, who broke into the scene with the 1998 indie comedy Billy’s Hollywood Screen Kiss, does seem to get a kick out of giving his film a fantastical flair, whether it’s creating daydreamy scenes where Landers imagines the characters acting out the play in a magical setting, or staging the play itself, a gaudy, campy affair that’s more reminiscent of the mediocre stage production Christopher Guest’s Corky St. Clair put on in Waiting for Guffman. (After Over, O’Haver once again worked that flair for Miramax when he directed the Anne Hathaway fairytale Ella Enchanted.)
As far as teen farces go, Over is all over the gotdamn place. Fleming piles on the wackiness, making the story so broad and over-the-top that it often tips over into absurdist surrealism. This is immediately established in the opening credits, where Landers is schlepping down the street after getting dumped (also carrying a box of his items that were at her place — wait, were these teenagers living together?) while early-aughts pop sensation Vitamin C (‘memba her?) is behind him, lip-syncing to Captain & Tennille’s “Love Will Keep Us Together” as dancers and a marching band put on a madcap production number. (Vitamin C teams up with Sisqo for another production number during the end credits, where they do a cringey cover of Earth, Wind and Fire’s “September” while Foster and Dunst try to stay in rhythm with the other dancers.)
With its collection of gross-out gags, almost-topless scenes and other randy bits, you immediately get the feeling that Over was supposed to be a raunchy, R-rated comedy, Harvey and them’s answer to American Pie. You can also tell by the clumsy editing, ADR-ed dialogue that covers up curse words, and scenes that are obviously reshoots that somebody higher-up had a change of heart and wanted it to be more PG-13. The uneven, awkward pace makes it look like a film that doesn’t know whether to play to dirty-minded teens or their younger, prepubescent siblings.
Over was released in March of 2001, grossing $19.9 million, failing to recoup its $22 million budget. It looks like Miramax wanted to drop this into theaters, get whatever money they could and wash their hands of it completely. (When I scrolled through reviews — most of them bad — of the movie on Newspapers.com, I noticed that all of the reviews were printed after its opening day, which means that Miramax didn’t hold any advance press screenings.) The cast doesn’t seem to be that fond of it either; you’d sooner see Dunst in interviews waxing nostalgically about her experiences making Bring It On, The Virgin Suicides or all the other teen films she did before this zany-ass mess.
But Over does have its fans. The most famous of them is Daniel Radcliffe, who went on the Happy Sad Confused podcast a couple years back and made the case that it’s a great comfort movie, as well as being one of the first things he and his girlfriend bonded over. Yes, Get It Over was a misfire that occurred during that wild, weird Teen Renaissance. But, for some people — even Harry Potter — this version of Dream is still a dream worth taking.