A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM
Sorry, couldn't resist.
It is a refreshing change, amid the summer blockbusters, teen
romances, and bullet-whizzing pablum, to see a film with true
character. Michael Hoffman's adaptation of Shakespeare's A
Midsummer Night's Dream is a delightful way to spend the summer
solstice evening, or any other, for that matter. Beautiful scenery
and costume design and a cast of remarkably talented actors make
this film one of the best I've seen yet this year.
The familiar plot of this classic is put into motion in an
updated setting: Monte Athena, Italy, in the late 19th century.
While one grows weary of Shakespearean adaptations set in the
present, where we try to incorporate skateboarding and the Internet
into Love's Labour's Lost, it is altogether different to
have a whimsical fairy tale like A Midsummer Night's Dream
set in recent history, but not too recent. The styles and pastimes
of 100 years ago seem somehow a little more fitting with the Bard's
16th century language.
The human characters whom we follow most closely are a quartet
of star-crossed lovers: Helena (Ally McBeal's Calista Flockhart)
loves Demetrius (Christian Bale); Demetrius loves Hermia (Anna
Friel); Hermia loves Lysander (Dominic West). Lysander loves her
back, but that doesn't help Demetrius, who has already obtained
permission from Hermia's father to marry her, and therefore claims
her as his own. But while they are futzing around, complaining
about not being able to love the one they want, there is another
love being thwarted. Fairy king Oberon (Rupert Everett) and his
queen Titania (Michelle Pfeiffer), are in the middle of a lovers'
quarrel. He enlists the aid of a spunky sprite named Puck (Stanley
Tucci) to anoint her eyes with the dew from a magical flower while
she is sleeping, so when she awakes she will fall in love with
the first living thing she sees.
Trouble is, Puck gets a little happy with the flower juice,
and he starts anointing eyes all over the place. Soon Lysander
and Demetrius both love Helena, both claiming to have no further
interest in Hermia. After a memorable mud-wrestling scene, the
four lovers go off in different directions, utterly confused by
each other's behavior. Meanwhile, Nick Bottom (Kevin Kline), a
conceited actor planning to star in a production for the Duke
and Duchess, gets a little of the fairy dust, too. After gazing
into a mirror, he is all the more smitten with himself, and as
Titania awakes to behold him, she can't help but share his opinion.
Even though he has developed several donkey-esque qualities in
The acting in this film is superb. The characters are well-defined and endearing. Flockhart is delightfully spirited as the ever-perplexed Helena. Pfeiffer is beauty personified, looking 15 years younger than she did in The Deep End Of The Ocean. Tucci and Kline are exceptionally fun. The final "play within a play," a production of Shakespeare's own Pyramus And Thisbe featuring Bottom's hysterical overacting, is as enjoyable as the one at the end of Shakespeare In Love. Gabriella Pescucci's costume design will surely get an Oscar nomination this year she already has one statuette for The Age Of Innocence (1993). Her designs are beautiful and colorful, and so are the settings by production designer Luciana Arrighi. Oliver Stapleton's cinema and Simon Boswell's original music also deserve note; they add importantly to the overall enjoyment of this adaptation of one of Shakespeare's most popular comedies. *****
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