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A Midsummer Night's Dream

Director/Adaptor:Michael Hoffman
Fox Searchlight Pictures; PG-13; 115 minutes
Release:5/99
Cast: Kevin Kline, Michelle Pfeiffer, Rupert Everett, Stanley Tucci, Calista Flockhart

As Shakespearean comedies go, A Midsummer Night's Dream is one of the Bard's more deliciously frivolous, and so too, this film version is one of the more breezy Shakespeare adaptations in recent memory. The film commits the crime of being eminently forgettable, which is one thing good Shakespeare productions never should be.

It's set in the 19th century Italy, just after the invention of the bicycle. The dramatic tension (as such) revolves around forest fairies crossing paths with criss-crossed lovers, but this entire section proceeds too quickly. Puck and Oberon (Stanley Tucci and Rupert Everett) give the only noteworthy performances. Michelle Pfeiffer's languid fairy princess is unappealing at best. This is by no means a bad movie; with a few exceptions, the acting doesn't deliver any sparks and the affair comes off as noncommittal and somewhat bland.

The bumbling workmen-turned-theatrical players are one of the film's best elements. Their “most lamentable comedy . . .of Pyramus and Thisby” ends the movie on a high point. Shakespeare has loaded the `actors' with double-entendres, malapropisms, and witty references to his own “Romeo and Juliet,” of which their play-within-a-play is an inversion. The direction gives Nick Bottom (Kevin Kline) an unusual amount of characterization; one wordless home scene poignantly suggests that a soured domestic life is the root of his overeager zeal for acting. Of Hollywood's latest stab at Shakespeare, Duke Theseus' response to Bottom's play is fitting: “The best in this kind are but shadows; and the worse are no worse, if imagination amend them.”


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