If its presentation is not always as strong as its intentions, Shakespeare High is a reflection of its subjects—the California high schoolers who compete to win the title of the best teen performance of Othello, Macbeth, and Midsummer Night’s Dream. Director Alex Rotaru follows a handful of the 50 competing schools as they prepare for what Glee fans will recognize as “regionals.” There is the fancy Los Angeles school for the arts, the all-girls Catholic school, the public school full of gang member and the ringer out in the desert. One of the schools happened to turn out Kevin Spacey, Mare Winningham, and Val Kilmer, and all three appear to comment on the importance of the programs for kids looking for a way into or out of themselves. If Shakespeare High lacks the tightness and emotional tension a competition doc needs to take off, we get to know enough of these preternaturally self-assured kids to care about what happens to them beyond the finals. As Spacey notes, arts funding is not only for the artsy. It may be most crucial, in fact, for kids like ex-gang banger Taco, who just needed a good reason to turn from “cholo to motherfucking geek.”
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