I’ll start the film review with points against,
because by criticizing at the start
(and since the criticisms are but small)
we put behind us things unpleasant, which,
though necessary if one wants to share
the truth, do not comprise the all
of one’s experience watching Hoffman’s film.
This version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream
at 19th century’s turn’s suppos’dly set
(though “turn” in this case surely means the last,
for phonographs in 1800 would
be out of place). But let’s not fret o’er when
it’s set; suffice to say that it was long ago.
The setting isn’t modern like the one
Baz Luhrmann used when he made Romeo
+ Juliet some two or three years past.
Nor is the setting bold and striking like
McKellen and Loncraine’s Richard III
which looks and feels like Nazi Germany
(it’s chilling to the bone and worth a rent.)
The point is that this film does not have one
odd thing about it, leading one to ask:
“Why now? Why film? Why not a trav’ling play?”
Effects most special? Not particul’y
(although the fairies made of light are neat).
Amazing sound and music? Not to me.
(although I think the music rang a bell)
I guess that Hoffman simply wished to tell
a lightweight tale for summer moviegoers.
“Lightweight” describes the film most fittingly,
unless perhaps you know of what I speak
when I say “fluff.” But “fluff” is not the worst
of jibes; in fact a very pleasant time
is eas’ly had at movies which are fluff.
In short: it’s nothing special and it’s fluff,
and that was it. That’s all the bad I had
to say about this film. (Espesh’ly since
I thought I wouldn’t mention the first scene
with Michelle Pfeiffer — her deliv’ry was
not great and sounded wooden. But, quite soon
the feeling passed and so I thought I’d leave
those unkind words unwritten in my piece).
And so we leave the critical behind.
At this point in reviews I often find
it’s time to summarize the movie’s plot,
but this time I will not. For since the film’s
retelling is quite faithful, I’ll not bore
you with the details — you can always look
them up in any tome of Shakespeare’s work.
(In fact there’s even now a “dummies” book!)
The changes Hoffman made, (he wrote the script
as well), it seems to me were mostly made
to make the dialogue seem more like speech
and less like speeches. Shakespeare’s words and deeds
were left intact as far as I can tell.
Okay, a little — little! — summary
to save you looking up the movie’s plots.
(I say instead of “plot,” the plural. Yes,
this film has two threads, prob’ly more, but I’ll
just keep my myself to two, for breviphiles.)
The first one is a love triangle, but
it is a square, because it has four sides:
Fair Helena fawns o’er Demetrius,
who loves her not; for he loves Hermia.
In fact, he’ll marry her, though not because
she loves him back. ‘Tis father’s whim to whom
she’ll wed; and he doth pick Demetrius.
But Hermia loves good Lysander, and
he requites her love, which means that of the four
sides to our square, just Helena’s unloved.
The other thread tells of the fairy king
and how his plot to tease his wife ensnares
a simple weaver/actor by the name
of Bottom. (He’s the one, and this the play,
where human head turns into ass’s head.)
That’s all the summary you’ll get from me.
There’s more, but ‘tis of no immense import.
The film deserves some praise, now that we’ve moved
beyond the summary and criticism,
And most of it belongs to Hoffman’s cast:
a fine job all around and in all roles.
Though Kevin Kline (as Bottom) gets the first
screen credit at the end, the credits at
the film’s beginning show the players’ names
in alphabetic order. In that way
ensemble acting’s emphasized o’er “stars”
or egos. Quite refreshing, I do say.
Puck (Stanley Tucci), gray and bald, still has
a sprightly step along with some of Dream’s
most funny lines. Calista Flockhart shines
as our fair Helena, and though comes close,
she never whines (a fear that’s grounded in
her TV past). And Kevin Kline can act
the fool in such a charming way that you
can love him, foolish mortal though he be.
You’ll surely recognize the faces of
the other actors, even if you don’t
know what their names may be. Of more import,
though, is that all performances are good.
Nor Rupert Everett (as the Fairy King --
don’t laugh), nor Pfeiffer as his wife are bad,
though both of them are flatter than the rest.
So all in all A Midsummer Night’s Dream
is pretty good, considering it’s fluff.
And if you have a couple hours to spare --
say Star Wars is sold out and you have made
no other plans — see Kline and Tucci play
their parts. It may not change your life but for
an afternoon you will be entertained.