Thursday, July 27, 2017

Movie #415: A Midsummer Night's Dream

A Midsummer Night's Dream is a screen adaptation of will.i.am Shakespeare's play, directed by Michael Hoffman and starring (deep breath) Stanley Tucci, Rupert Everett, Michelle Pfeiffer, Kevin Kline, David Straithairn, Calista Flockhart, Christian Bale, Dominic West, Sophie Marceau, and Anna Friel (that's most of the principal cast).

Right, so, you probably know the story: Theseus (Straithairn) is going to marry Hippolyta (Marceau), but meanwhile, Demetrius (Bale) is forcibly betrothed to Hermia (Friel) even though she loves Lysander (West) and Helena (Flockhart) is head-over-heels for Demetrius. Meanwhile-meanwhile, the faerie monarchs Oberon (Everett) and Titania (Pfeiffer) have their own little squabble over a changeling child, and a troupe of workers who are working to put on a play, including Bottom the Weaver (Kline) are trying to rehearse their little opus, and all of these folks (except Theseus and Hippolyta) wind up in the woods on the very same night. And Oberon's little helper Puck (Tucci) kinda screws things up by making Lysander fall for Helena, and then really makes things fun by turning Bottom into a weird half-donkey and making Titania fall for him.

Whew. It's a Shakespeare comedy, meaning at the end everybody gets married and all is well. So let's think about this particular version.

It's set in the 19th century and people ride around on bicycles. There's a lot of focus on human things (often things with wheels or that spin) being brought into faerie-land (gramophones, bicycles), and a lot of the humor is done with closeups of Oberon or Puck rolling their eyes at folks. Nudity is also used as a fun little plot device (Lysander surprising Hermia by betting butt-ass nekkid, but the best bit is all four lovers waking up nude as Theseus and his people ride up).

The nice thing about movies made out of Shakespeare is that because they're not on stage, folks can whisper or murmur sexfully (that's two Futurama references in the same post, Matt, you're on a roll) rather than having to project, and that's nice. We get to see Oberon and Titania actually share some intimacy, and you get the sense that this screwing about with love potions is kinda the way faeries interact with one another normally.

One thing I didn't think worked so well was adding scenes with Bottom's wife; she refers to him (in Italian) as a dreamer, and he kind of dodges her, but it never really goes anywhere and of course it's not really part of the play. One gets the sense that Kevin Kline, in an interesting instance of life imitating art, insisted on more screen time and development for his character. It has the effect of making Bottom seem sad rather than just foolish, which is a shame.

Oh, something I forgot when I saw this before: Sam Rockwell playing Flute playing Thisbe deciding to ditch the stupid high-pitched voice and just act and actually moving the audience. It works perfectly, since doing that voice for laughs wouldn't have carried the whole scene.

On the whole, it's a nicely light and well put-together version of the story.

My Grade: A-
Rewatch value: Probably medium-low, but good as Shakespeare adaptations go

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