Sometimes the humor gods smile upon us. I wasn't expecting to like Scotland, PA, Billy Morrissette's drive-thru version of Macbeth. Hasn't the Bard been tortured enough? And isn't setting the Scottish play in a '70s fast-food joint the Shakespearean equivalent of piling on? (About the only place you don't see Macbeth set anymore is in Scotland.) But Morrissette, who's making his feature debut, has a quality that's rare in American movies these days, especially comedies: a sense of humor. Moment by moment, Scotland, PA is either mildly or wildly amusing, and it's the mildly amusing parts I appreciated the most, the off-the-cuff tone that Morrissette establishes early on and never loses control of, thanks in part to a soundtrack that does for Bad Company what Wayne's World did for Queen: raises them from the dead. Will we ever get through bashing the '70s? In Scotland, PA, they take a licking but keep on tickling.
Summoning up one mentally challenged facial expression after another, James LeGros is "Mac" McBeth, the assistant manager of a roadside diner called Duncan's. Mac might be content to spend his whole life flipping burgers and pouring shakes if not for his counter-help wife, Pat (Maura Tierney), who imagines a better life for the two of them as, say, owners of the newly rechristened McBeth's, with its groundbreaking drive-thru window. Alack and alas, there's something standing in the way of their better life, Duncan (James Rebhorn) himself, but not for long. In a scene that reads like a cliché but plays like a cliché in quotes, the soon-to-be previous owner winds up headfirst in the Frymaster. Thus begins the descent into madness of our Burger King and Dairy Queen. Only, instead of compulsively rubbing her supposedly blood-stained hands, Pat nurses an imaginary burn. Out, damned grease spot!
However clever, such updatings don't usually do much for me, but Morrissette, who also wrote the script, doesn't lean on Shakespeare's play, just stands next to it, picking lint off its shoulders. And so we get Christopher Walken as a strangely out-of-synch detective named McDuff. And Kevin Corrigan as Banko, a Duncan's employee who, like everybody else in Scotland, seems a few fries short of a Happy Meal. Only Tierney's Pat radiates intelligence, so much so that you almost sympathize with her. "I deserve a fucking Oscar for this performance," she says at Duncan's funeral. And in some alternative universe where "The Dukes of Hazzard" outranked Two Gentlemen of Verona, she'd get one. Tierney's a scream in Scotland, PA, and so is the rest of the cast. After enduring the Cliff Notes tedium of O, it's a pleasure to spend some time with these groundlings, one of whom invents Chicken McNuggets.
This fowl is more than fair.