Chasing Shakespeare is an ambitious film with inspired ideas which are held back by heavy-handed storytelling, unclear plot points and, in a couple of cases, weak acting.
Venus is born into the lightening clan. She is confident to the point of arrogance, sassy to the point of annoyance. She catches the eye of William, an African American boy, and their romance ignites. The film oscillates between telling the tale of the beginning of their love and William’s present life after Venus has died. Many of the plot twists are forced and unclear. The biggest of which occurs when William comes to Venus’ house unexpectedly. She explains that her sister is sick, about to die and that the family is leaving immediately. She then says that she must go to New York to fulfill her father’s vision. When she gets to New York she too is obviously sick and begins to cough up blood. It’s never explained how she also got sick, why she is separated from her family or what her father’s vision is.
New York is when the story really falls apart. The beautiful Chelsea Ricketts plays Venus. She does fine in small scenes, but her performance is one note and most of her lines fall flat. The farthest stretch is when she must perform Shakespeare. We are meant to believe that her sheer comfort with the text and delivery of the words wow a Broadway producer into giving her the role of understudy for a part that she was not even scheduled to audition for. The scenes of her reciting Shakespeare are particularly painful as the words clunk out. It’s especially stark in comparison to Ashley Bell’s vivacious, wide-eyed performance which serves as a saving grace to the New York segment of the film.
Danny Glover gives a touching and, at times, heart breaking portrayal of William as a lonely old man. Unfortunately, by the time we get to this point in the film we’ve already been through stereotypical bullying scenes and the “what the heck” New York segment. In the film, racial bias is directed only at the Native American, Venus. William seems to get no teasing for being African American.
There is some beautiful writing in the film but unfortunately it’s just not tight enough to recommend. Some simple errors: the director at the auditions saying “Okay back to rehearsal” and the fact that Williams’ son is supposed to be able to play guitar and literally can’t strum a single note take away from the fantasy of the film. It has a very touching, beautiful story at the core. I teared up multiple times and that makes it all the more disappointing that the film just isn’t quite right yet. The film is slated to be re-packaged and re-named for a larger release. I hope that some of the kinks will be ironed out and that it can reach the potential of the film that it is so close to being.