A Midsummer Night's Dream (1999)

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All I can say is, thank goodness I saw this film with a high school drama teacher – I thought to myself (dimly recalling my own high school’s production) that something was not quite right, but my Shakespeare-doting friend assured me that plenty of thematic but not plot-driving content was removed. Knowing this, it would behoove the casual viewer to peruse the play before catching the flick – or perhaps, better yet, afterward – the visuals for this movie are incomparable.

I don’t need to inform anyone that the lyric beauty of the Queen of the fairies, Titania, is most closely expressed on earth in the form of Michelle Pfeiffer, and Kevin Kline as Bottom is truly an inspired casting choice as well. Rupert Everett is the hunkiest Oberon imaginable, and believe it or not, Calista Flockhart only vaguely resembles Ally McBeal in this bicycle-riding Bardic beaut. “Use me as you would your dog” is a rather Ally thing to say, and who better to beg to be treated as their spaniel than Christian Bale? Woof. Oh yeah, and Stanley Tucci, who is Puck in real life anyway (see The Imposters!) is actually wasted because of all the good gushy material that the production team seems to have seen fit to eliminate.

I was bummed (after my companion reminded me, I can’t claim all this intellectual credit for something I only half-felt in my gut) that the delicious sniping rivalry between Titania and Oberon was snipped in favor of wordless set pieces apparently intended to develop Bottom’s real life character…perhaps they were trying to make him into the every man…heck, I dunno. It was gorgeous, beautiful, nicely acted, sexy, amusing, magical…full of bikes?

My incredibly brilliant theory is of course tied to the moment in history that is exemplified by the advent of widespread bicycle riding (see my junior year in college box of papers, somewhere in there is a snappy all-nighter of a paper about the subject) and its effect on women’s stature and autonomy in society. Of course, Midsummer is basically set in Elizabethan times and women were not allowed to marry anyone their fathers did not allow, so the dialogue was a bit jarring – and I’m sorry, is that supposed to be Athens? I can accept that all Shakespeare’s plays are by law to be performed with English accents for the most part, but these kids were just three years off the newsie job lines. (Sorry, Christian – no offense!)

Basically, it is a lovely movie – go, watch the pretty people on their pretty, false sets say pretty words (but not all of them) and then read the original and picture Kevin Kline’s delightful turn as the Lead Actor in his troupe – truly Oscar caliber, that, despite all the weird extra such and such with a wife…? It only makes him less sympathetic somehow. I don’t know, I was only an English major (with a theatre minor – shame on me!). I pledge to my non-email enabled high school drama teacher friend to read more Shakespeare from now on!

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 5/14/99
Time in minutes 116
Director Michael Hoffman
Studio Fox Searchlight