The Essentials- #66
A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy
When I was in sixth grade, my middle school put a rendition of William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” In the play, I starred as Puck, a mischievous fairy who gets into a lot of trouble with his king for enchanting the wrong people. That spring, I learned a couple things about myself, (1) I was halfway decent at acting and (2) I was drawn to Shakespeare and the power of his language. My middle school held an annual Shakespeare festival and I think that Shakespeare celebration made a bigger impact on my life than I probably realized. There have been good and bad interpretations of Shakespeare’s stories on film, but there have rarely ever been any straight-up parodies of Shakespeare’s work.
Woody Allen’s “A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy” may sound like a thousand different movie ideas. Frankly, it isn't at all what it sounds like. “A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy” isn't a raunchy parody of Shakespeare’s powerful work, but it borrows some of the ideas of the famous play. It also isn't the typical Woody Allen film. Sure, cheating and separation are two big themes in the film, just like every other Woody Allen film ever committed to the medium, but “A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy” is one of those rare Allen stories where he breathed a different life into his old themes. In doing so, Allen also created one of the weirder movies in his filmography, but all the oddities of this particular story are thematically sound and made the experience that much better.
The film centers on Andrew (Woody Allen) and Adrian (Mary Steenburgen), a married couple who has lost their sparks in the bedroom and it is beginning to strain their marriage. In order to relive the tension of their current quarrel, they invite Andrew’s good friend Maxwell (Tony Roberts) and his current gal-pal Dulcy (Julie Hagerty) as well as Adrian’s cousin Leopold (Jose Ferrer) for a weekend of summer fun at Andrew’s secluded cabin. Little does Andrew know that Leopold brings his fiancée Ariel (Mia Farrow), an old flame of Andrew whom Maxwell suddenly begins to lust after. Ariel’s arrival brings further strain on Andrew and Adrian’s dilemma and brings Maxwell’s animal urges into overdrive. At the same time, Leopold discovers an attraction to Dulcy and he wants to have a night of love making with her before his wedding day, which will be the following morning. So Maxwell wanting to be with Ariel, Leopold wanting to be with Dulcy, Adrian wanting to piece back her sex life and Andrew at a crossroads about whether or not to rekindle his old love for Ariel or making things better with his wife. With all of this tension at one cabin, who will end up with who and will everyone be happy?
What ensues in “A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy” is a wacky, zany, crazy little comedy. It’s a movie that plays with the tropes of Shakespeare’s play without becoming an overall parody. I also loved how Allen plays with other themes besides his usual schlock. There is a “science vs. spirituality” theme that underlines parts of the film that I really liked. Most of all, I like that the film boils down to a tale of happiness and love, it’s a movie that tells us that if there is somebody special in your life or who has the potential to be special, you need to find them and hold on to them. It compels us to be aggressive about whom we want in our lives and if a moment feels right, we need to go for it in the name of love. I don’t know if a Woody Allen film has had a sweeter message, and it is not what you would expect from a film that has the word “sex” in its title.
The old acting work by Woody Allen was always delightful to watch and his performance as Andrew is just superb. His play of words and situation is comedic gold and he gets every punch-line right every time. His innocent, childlike persona is almost perfect for the role he plays and he really makes it wonderful. He adds two of his prominent regulars of the time, Mia Farrow and Tony Roberts, and everything is even better. I thought Farrow and Roberts do good work in their performances and I particularly find it unfortunate that Farrow and Allen’s relationship fell through the way it did, because they were dynamic on the screen together. I liked the work done by Mary Steenburgen, Julie Hagerty and Jose Ferrer. Mary Steenburgen portrays the concerned, timid wife very well. I particularly like a scene where Adrian randomly asks Dulcy for sexual advice, it is humorous in the most innocent way and Steenburgen absolutely nails it. Julie Hagerty has some of the funniest moments in the film and she handles them with a genuine sweetness that is hard to deny. Then there is Jose Ferrer, who is a stern intellectual. But Ferrer is also capable of subtle humor and he pulls it off very well.
I know I have talked about Woody Allen and his films already several times in this column, but I sincerely can’t help it. I try to make this column as diverse as possible, but this there is a passionate urge to everything I write. I was in my hometown all weekend and I saw my old Woody Allen collection that my parents have been holding onto for me. My heart and my head were both telling me that this was the time to bring this back to my apartment and revisit them as soon as possible. Woody Allen may have a disgusting personal life, but he knows his movies and the string of films he made in the late 1980’s were among his best pieces of work. Oh, and I know you all are still wondering about “Escape from the Planet of the Apes” and I finally got around to watching that, and I still can’t wrap my head around it. I think I’ll need to watch it again before I think about including it on this column, and even if I don’t, I still may write about it in some fashion. I didn't mean to tease you all like this, but keep an eye out for that one.