|"Midsummer Night's Dream"|
All's well that ends well
A stellar cast shines brightly in a Shakespearian comedy
Review by Carlos deVillalvilla
At first glance, you'd think that "A Midsummer's Night Dream" would be an excellent choice for a modern interpretation of Shakespeare. In fact, with the glut of Shakespeare adaptations we've had recently - "Romeo and Juliet," "Hamlet," "Much Ado About Nothing" and "Henry V" among them it's actually amazing this one didn't get the star-studded, splashy treatments sooner.
In fact, of all of Shakespeare's body of work other than those named above, only "Taming of the Shrew," "Macbeth" and "The Tempest" have more resonance to the near-21st-century sensibilities than this.
A talented cast make this "Dream" worth dreaming. Updated to a late 19th-century Italian setting, Hermia (Anna Friel) is betrothed to Demetrius (Christian Bale), but is in fact in love with Lysander (Dominic West). Demetrius is being pursued by Helena ("Ally McBeal's" Callista Flockhart), who loves him unrequitedly. Hermia and Lysander plan to flee her intractable father (Bernard Hill) and Lord Theseus (David Straithairn) who intends to wed himself (a radiantly beautiful Sophie Marceau as Hippolyta, his intended) because they are forcing Hermia to wed her betrothed.
Perchance all four young people flee into a nearby forest, where Titania, Queen of the Faeries (Michelle Pfeiffer) has been carrying on, much to the chagrin of her husband Oberon (Rupert Everett). Oberon dispatches Puck (Stanley Tucci) to fetch a particular flower that, when its essence is rubbed on the eyelids, causes that person to fall in love with the first person they see. Mischievous Puck makes sure that the wrong lovers are paired up by the potion, and that the Queen espies a would-be actor (Kevin Kline) who has been given the head of a donkey by Puck. Make sense yet?
Of course not. It is Shakespeare, after all, and all you need to know is that All's Well That Ends Well and you won't understand half of what's going on. Still, it's great fun to watch and I found myself laughing at lines written 500 years ago that are still uproariously funny. I'm not sure whether to be comforted or saddened that human nature hasn't changed all that much in the intervening centuries.
Kline, Tucci and Everett are wonderous to behold. Pfeiffer does surprisingly well as the promiscuous Titania. Straithairn, one of John Sayle's repertory actors, shows a great deal of affinity for Shakespeare. The element of fantasy is not as intrusive as in other romantic comedies, and the filmmakers wisely shy away from turning this into a special effects extravaganza, using technology wisely and subtly to enhance the story instead of overwhelming it. Kline and Tucci are particularly enjoyable in their performances - both are terrific actors but have never been regarded as Shakespearean classicists. They handle the challenge well here.
"A Midsummer's Night Dream" is anything but boring, although an atmosphere free of distraction is preferable when viewing it - having a 10-year-old demanding my attention probably deducted at least half a star from the rating, which is patently unfair. Nevertheless, "A Midsummer's Night Dream" is frothy, lighthearted and enjoyable - a perfect introduction to the Bard for those who have had little or no experience with him.
VIDEO OR THEATRE?
Oooh, what's that stink?
Oh - it's this execrable mistreatment of a great play
Review by John Orr
With their execrable film, director/writer Michael Hoffman and actor Kevin Kline have reinterpreted Shakespeare's "Midsummer Night's Dream" much as a punk might reinterpret a Van Gogh with a can of graffiti paint.
They did the unforgivable in comedy: They made Bottom the rustic fool who temporarily has the head of an ass a tragic character.
That lets the hydrogen out of the Hindenburg, that puts the hole in the Titanic, that blows up the bridge over the River Kwai.
Once you do that, it doesn't matter how you paint the rest of the blimp, the boat, the bridge or the movie, you ain't goin' nowhere.
More's the pity that such a great actor Kline took part in such a crime, because many people will only see this travesty, will not read the play, will not see a better production or film of it (that is, any other production or film of it), and they will miss a wonderful tale.
For those people, let me point out that the real "Midsummer's Night Dream" is thematically speaking more centered around Oberon and Titiana, the king and queen of the fairies. Theirs is the relationship that counts. And, it is funny! Delightful! Within Shakespeare's inspired goofiness, there is meat aplenty about human romance and relationships. It does not need the meddling of these 20-century dorks, Hoffman and Kline. Sigh.
The fairy royalty are having a spat, and Oberon, as a joke on his beloved, gives the rustic Bottom the head of an ass, and puts a spell on Titiana that makes her fall in love with him. Much hilarity ensues.
(Yeah, yeah, it's a rotten trick he pulls, but it's their marriage, not yours or mine, so quit yer whining; she married the guy knowing full well what his powers were. And, which of us hasn't been made an ass in love?)
A key part of the hilarity comes from Bottom being such a hockey puck that he thinks it's just normal for the beautiful, magical Titiana to fall for him. And when she wakes up from the spell and goes on with her life, he just goes on with his life.
But this coiled and steaming pile of a film makes Bottom aware of his lot in life, which completely robs us of any chance of laughing at him. It makes him the important character, and makes us waste valuable time we could could have used laughing and enjoying ourselves feeling sorry for the pathetic dork.
It ruins the entire story.
And the way Hoffman and Kline shovel the pathos into this film is overwhelming. It actually ends with Kline fawning out the window, pining for Titiana.
Somehow Hoffman and Kline have turned one of the great romantic comedies of all time into a tragedy.
There are many lovely things to look at and be amused by in this film, ranging from some of the set decoration and effects to some of the performances. Calista Flockhart, as usual, is way too aware of herself, but still is almost watchable; Stanley Tucci is a serviceable Puck.
Sophie Marceau is in this film. She is wonderful. If they hadn't blown up the Hindenburg by making Bottom a tragic character, I would say, rent or buy this just to see Ms. Marceau. But, no. Avoid it anyway.
And, perhaps the biggest crime against Shakespeare, his fans and wonderful actors everywhere, Rupert Everett is Oberon, and Michelle Pfeiffer is Titiana. Two of the most gorgeous and talented people to ever grace a reflective surface. And they are fun to watch in this.
But, do yourself and Shakespeare a favor: Avoid this film as if it were the plague. A pox on it!
Maybe, sometime, Everett and Pfeiffer can do these roles again for film, with a better screenwriter and director. I hope so.
Theater or video?