Scotland, Pa (2001)

*. There is a Scotland in Pennsylvania, which is where this film is nominally set. It was actually filmed in New Scotland (Nova Scotia, Canada) though. Funny how those things work out.
*. Shakespeare has, of course, been adapted to all kinds of different settings. Macbeth has gone to Japan (Throne of Blood) and the mean streets (Joe MacBeth, Men of Respect). So setting the story in small-town Pennsylvania in the 1970s, with Joe McBeth and his wife taking over a fast-food joint, isn’t that far out of step. Turn the witches into stoner hippies and make Macduff a detective looking into the murder of Duncan and we can feel like we’re on familiar ground.
*. Even the noir angle, which recalls The Postman Always Rings Twice as much as Shakespeare, isn’t a stretch. Macbeth is a crime story, after all.
*. What is new here, at least it seems new to me, is playing the tragedy as farce. This doesn’t often happen. The only other instance I can think of is Strange Brew, but in that case the connection to Hamlet was tenuous to begin with. I wonder why this is. I don’t think it’s because filmmakers see Shakespeare as any kind of sacred cow. Maybe it’s just that no one has found a way to make it work.
*. Scotland, Pa sort of makes it work. The new restaurant McBeth’s is obviously McDonald’s, which also explains how all the Macs in the play have turned into Mcs here. In setting up a drive-through, Joe “Mac” McBeth is showing the kind of entrepreneurial chops that his namesake showed on the battlefield. As played by James LeGros (or Le Gros, I’m not sure which he prefers) he has commanding presence and a shaggy charm, even if we’re not convinced he’s the sharpest knife in the kitchen. Meanwhile, his wife Maura Tierney (actually director Billy Morrissette’s wife at the time) is all lean hunger. We can imagine them going on to establish an empire. If not for the fuzz.
*. The detective McDuff is something new, and a character who I think must have been dead on the page before Christopher Walken stepped into the role. Walken takes over as he always does, and the only thing I was disappointed by was the lack of more back-and-forth between him and Tierney. That might have been fun. But the script settles for being clever instead of smart and we never see them go at it. A shame, because the rest of the town seems far too dull for the two of them.
*. Then again, maybe that was Shakespeare’s point as well. That the normal world doesn’t have any place for those with such excessive ambition. Better to follow modest dreams, like playing in a bar band or starting a vegetarian restaurant (neither of which seem likely to be successful).
*. A fun little movie. For once the retro soundtrack felt right, and I was singing along happily with “Bad Company,” “Feel Like Makin’ Love,” “Beach Baby,” and “Can’t Get Enough (Of Your Love).” Plus a bit of Beethoven’s Seventh, just because it has a way of finding itself into the strangest places. Scotland, Pa is just such a strange place, though maybe closer to Twin Peaks than the heath. It makes a neat place to visit, or just to drive through.

8 thoughts on “Scotland, Pa (2001)

    1. Alex Good Post author

      It’s a good little movie that takes some pretty interesting chances that pay off. The only thing I thought really didn’t work was the witches.


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