Director: Michael Hoffman
|Screenplay: Michael Hoffman (based on the play by William Shakespeare)
|Stars: Kevin Kline (Bottom), Michelle Pfeiffer (Titania), Rupert Everett (Oberon), Stanley Tucci (Puck), Calista Flockhart (Helena), Anna Friel
(Hermia), Dominic West (Lysander), Christian Bale (Demetrius), David Strathairn (Theseus), Sophie Marceau (Hippolyta)
|MPAA Rating: PG-13
|Year of Release: 1999
In saying, "Lord, what fools these mortals be," Puck (Stanley Tucci), the
engagingly meddlesome sprite in "William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's
Dream," effectively summarizes that play's theme, as well as the major theme
in just about all of Shakespeare's best work. Whether it be "Hamlet" or
"Macbeth" or "Romeo and Juliet," somehow Shakespeare always pointed out how
foolish people are. But, of course, that foolishness is what makes his
characters so interesting, and what gives his plays such wonderful human
depth. Foolish or not, as Shakespeare wrote in "Hamlet," "What a piece of
work is man."
In the new screen version of "A Midsummer Night's Dream," writer/director
Michael Hoffman ("Restoration") uses grand set design, digital effects, and
a cast of popular American, British, and French actors to bring to life one
of Shakespeare's most innovative and amusing comedies--an early sexual farce
set in a mystical forest. With people falling in and out of love with each
other at the drop of a magic flower, "A Midsummer Night's Dream" is a light,
breezy affair, dappling in the inherent silliness and chance of romantic
infatuation. Hoffman updates the story from ancient Greece to Tuscany in the
late 19th century, where the bustle was going out and the bicycle was coming
The majority of the story is about how four unwitting mortals get caught in
the passionate battle between Oberon, the Fairy King (Rupert Everett) and
Titania, the Fairy Queen (Michelle Pfeiffer). The four mortals are Helena
(Calista Flockhart), Hermia (Anna Friel), Lysander (Dominic West), and
Demetrius (Christian Bale). Hermia is being forced to marry Demetrius, even
though she is in love with Lysander. Helena, meanwhile, is deeply in love
with Demetrius, even though he doesn't give her the time of day. So, by the
time Oberon and Puck are done dropping love potions on their eyelids to make
them fall in love with the first person they see, Demetrius and Lysander are
both in love with Helena, and Hermia is left wondering what happened.
Also caught up in the farce is Bottom the Weaver (Kevin Kline), a
good-hearted but miserable man who dreams of being a great actor. When he
and his four worker friends go into the forest to practice a play, Puck
gives Bottom donkey ears and Titania, under the spell of Oberon's magic
potion, ends up falling in love with him. The scenes that ensue, with the
beautiful, scantily clad Pfeiffer fawning over Kline and his ridiculous
donkey ears, are both funny and a bit sad. While Bottom has often been
portrayed as a randy, obnoxious sort, Kline gives him depth and sadness in a
wonderfully comic performance. We truly feel for Bottom when, while
displaying his acting prowess on the town square, he is humiliated when a
couple of kids dump wine all over his head, completely deflating his
self-confidence and acting prowess.
Hoffman puts together a number of amusing set pieces, even though the movie
itself takes a while to get up to speed. He maintains the majority of
Shakespeare's beautiful language, and stays faithful to the play's
storyline. One of the best scenes is the play-within-a-play, where Bottom
and Co. portray "The Most Lamentable Comedy, the Cruel Death of Pyramus and
Thisbe," and despite everything going wrong, they manage to end in triumph.
The scene is both comical slapstick and a sentimental ode to Bottom and his
friends' desire to rise above their lowly station in life.
The performances are good all around, with Kline being the real standout.
Stanley Tucci does a fine job of making Puck both amusingly mischievous and
somewhat dark, and he avoids the kind of annoyance into which his part can
sometimes sink (see Mickey Rooney in the 1935 film version). Rupert Everett
is also quite excellent; looking as relaxed reciting Shakespearean poetry as
he does lounging on the forest floor bare-chested, he gives Oberon a
brooding sensibility that goes a long way in explaining his devious
meddling. Calista Flockhart ("Ally McBeal" herself) acts a bit too spacey at
times, but she still makes Helena into an effectively wounded, love-starved
The set design by Luciana Arrighi ("Sense and Sensibility") and the
cinematography by Oliver Stapleton (who worked with Hoffman on "Restoration"
and "One Fine Day") are both outstanding, and they do an excellent job of
creating the kind of mystical aura where we can believe in fairies, nymphs,
and other woodland sprites. Hoffman successfully balances the humor and the
sentiment, while also giving the film a strong sexual overtone that never
becomes overbearing (he has just the right amount of well-placed nudity).
While it may not be among the best of the cinematic adaptations of
Shakespeare, and it has its moments of unevenness, this "Midsummer Night's
Dream" is worth staying up for.
Overall Rating: (3)