Shakespeare is in vogue. Just look at the success of Oscar-winning Shakespeare in Love, and teen hit 10 Things I Hate About You which retells The Taming of the Shrew. The newly released William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream pairs Bard’s poetry with female mud wrestling. Does it work? That depends on what you’re looking for.
Writer/director Michael Hoffman relocates the play from Greece to 19th century Tuscany, where Duke Theseus (David Strathairn) plans to marry Hippolyta (Sophie Marceau, the newest Bond Girl). While awaiting his own nuptials, Theseus must settle a dispute over an arranged marriage, as the distraught Hermia (Anna Friel) who loves Lysander (Dominic West) must marry Demetrius (Christian Bale). Complicating things, Hermia’s best friend, Helena (Calista Flockhart), loves Demetrius.
Planning to elope, Hermia and Lysander flee into the forest. A marital spat between the King and Queen of the Fairies, Oberon (Rupert Everett) and Titania (Michelle Pfeiffer), results in mayhem. Oberon’s magical trickster, Puck (Stanley Tucci), accidentally dissolves Lysander’s love for Hermia and makes both Lysander and Demetrius madly desire bewildered Helena. Puck also transforms an actor rehearsing in the forest, Nick Bottom (Kevin Kline), into a man-ass. Puck makes Titania burn for the foolish-looking Bottom.
Kline shines as Bottom, the donkey-man balancing joy and apprehension during predatory Titania’s advances. Flockhart plays Helena with ‘Ally McBeal-ish’ neuroticism, an interesting interpretation, but her untamed emotions clash with the classical style of the other actors. However, in her favor, I have to say it’s refreshing that flat-chested Flockhart, ‘inflagrente delecto’ except for a strategically placed flower, hasn’t turned to silicone. Pfeifer looks so ephemerally gorgeous as the Fairy Queen that it’s impossible to resist her; just ask Kline.
The mortal lovers chase through the forest on bicycles, which seems awkward and unrealistic. The forest itself could have been more magical; the movie’s trailer built up expectations of more flash. The firefly-like fairies do look great, though.
Midsummer Night’s Dream’s funniest moments come near the end, when Kline and his acting troupe star in a slapstick, purposely overacted, performance for the Duke. The movie theater was filled with laughter, and audience members even clapped.
If you’re not a Shakespearean purist, and don’t mind poetic license (mud wrestling, bicycles, a middle-aged Puck, etc.), you’ll enjoy this flick. It’s rated PG-13 for sensuality and nudity.
+ Kendeyl Johansen