William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream

1999, Movie, PG-13, 115 mins


Lavish and star-studded, Michael Hoffman's version of Shakespeare's fairy-dusted game of romantic round robin is a thoroughly respectable affair: Your high school English teacher would approve, and parts are terrifically enjoyable. The story, about the tangled amours of a gaggle of pretty young things, could keep a soap opera in plot twists for weeks. Hermia (Anna Friel) and Lysander (Dominic West) are desperately in love, but her father wants her to marry Demetrius (Christian Bale). Meanwhile, Hermia's friend Helena (Calista Flockhart) adores Demetrius, who rejects her cruelly. The four of them unwisely repair to the woods, where fairy monarchs Oberon (Rupert Everett) and Titania (Michelle Pfeiffer), are in the midst of a supernatural marital spat. Oberon's revenge is to make his imperious lady fall magically in love with Bottom (Kevin Kline), a thesping rube whom spiteful Oberon has graced with a donkey's head. In a more benevolent vein, Oberon sends his emissary Puck (Stanley Tucci) to sort out the young lovers' problems, a mission that goes comically awry. Midsummer is a lark with a sneakily serious heart, about both love's all-consuming fire and theater's heart-breaking illusions. The trick is not to bog it down in the mechanics of magic. Hoffman sets the story in 19th-century Tuscany, the better to revel in lush Italian landscapes and stage comic bits with bicycles and phonographs. Cute enough for the human world, but his imagination fails when it comes to the fairy kingdom, a fantasy-busting thing of portly nymphs and wings attached with straps. And why be so crude as to set poor Helena and Hermia to cat-fighting in the mud? Among the featured players, Tucci and the imperious Everett are sheer delights, and Kline plays Bottom for nuance rather than buffoonery. Pfeiffer is a bit stiff and Flockhart exasperatingly frazzled. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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