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A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S SEX COMEDY

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Woody Allen, Mia Farrow, Jose Ferrer, Julie Hagerty, Tony Roberts, Mary Steenburgen
Director:  Woody Allen
Audio:  Dolby Digital Mono
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  MGM
Features:  Theatrical Trailer
Length:  88 Minutes
Release Date:  November 6, 2001

“I’m a doctor, and I believe in the spirit world.”

“You have to, Maxwell.  That’s where all your patients end up.”

Film ***

Some movie fans unfairly dismiss A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy as one of Woody Allen’s lesser works.  True, it’s not as innovative as Annie Hall, as beautiful as Manhattan, as intelligent as Another Woman or as funny as Zelig, but to go into the picture looking for comparisons is to miss the movie’s own sense of charm, fun, and infectious spirit. 

No, it’s nothing to take seriously.  Allen never misses a chance to inject brevity into his material, either with allusions to magic, or the beautiful sunny photography by Gordon Willis, or a slapstick gag like a pedal-propelled flying machine that crashes into a lake at an inopportune time, or just the light absurdity of his group of characters.  Much like the Shakespeare play the title refers to, there is enchantment in the air…but unlike it, spirits do not make delightful complications of their love affairs…their own neurosis do.  THAT alone is a distinctive Woody Allen touch.

Taking place around 1900, a soon-to-be-wed couple Leopold (a delightfully pompous Ferrer) and Ariel (Farrow, in her first Woody Allen film) come to the country the day before their wedding to share an evening with a couple whose marriage is straining:  the crazed inventor Andrew (Allen) and his increasingly distant wife Adrian (Steenburgen).  They have not been able to function sexually for some time, and Andrew is beginning to wonder if the magic is truly gone.  Complicating matters is the fact that he and Ariel shared a romantic night once long ago where nothing happened, and both seem to regret it.

Also along for the night is Andrew’s best friend Maxwell (Roberts), a womanizing doctor, and his date for the evening, his nurse Dulcy (Hagerty).  And while Andrew is feeling a rekindling of his passion for Ariel, Maxwell too begins to fall in love with her, while Leopold begins to secretly pine for Dulcy.

The story unfolds comically and whimsically, with great dialogue and banter between the characters, and one mixed-up situation after another.  True to Shakespearean form, it’s much ado about nothing…by the time the day rolls around, much will be learned about love and life, and even death, in a way that’s too amusing to even try to describe.

Allen forgoes his usual cleverness with these characters, letting them live and breathe with simple vibrancy.  Even when discussions turn to serious matters like the afterlife, it never gets too serious (see the quote above).  As writer/director, he has explored similar themes with probing insight and thoughtful nurturing in other films…those who feel he failed to do so here have missed the point of this film.

The cast is wonderful to a tee, as can always be counted on for one of Allen’s ensemble.  The bickering between Ferrer and Roberts is the most delightful (“I read your book…I must say, I found it very poor…”).  Pure comedy is what’s in the works from beginning to end…comedy with a hint of magic and romance, and the suggestion of amazing possibilities that are hinted at, but never dominate the fun of the movie.

The look of the picture is also an asset.  “I wanted to do for the country what I did for New York in Manhattan,” Allen has explained, and even though notorious for disliking country life, you could never tell it by a single frame of this movie.  The picture radiates the glow of summer from start to finish, with all the warmth of a serious period film created for a comedy.  The settings add atmosphere to the romantic romps of the story, and the humor can take place freely without confinement in them.

In other words, it takes a rather cold and cynical heart to dislike a picture like A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy.  It’s a simple, pleasurable and infectious romp that exists only to be fun…the mixture of romance, comedy, and of course, sex, makes it a lighthearted delight from beginning to end. 

BONUS TRIVIA:  Allen filmed this movie and Zelig simultaneously.

Video ***1/2

This is an exemplary anamorphic transfer from MGM, capturing all the beauty of Gordon Willis’ warm summer days, but even better, rendering the darkly lit scenes with smoothness and detail, and no grain to spoil the natural contrast.  Colors are beautifully represented throughout, from the green of the trees to the blue of the skies to flesh tones.  Some features come across as slightly soft, but I believe that to be a deliberate choice; it adds to the old-fashioned picture postcard quality of the images.  All in all, this is a very impressive effort.

Audio **1/2

Though a standard middle-of-the-road Woody Allen mono soundtrack presentation, I can’t help but give it an extra half-star just for the beauty and aural quality of the Mendelssohn music.

Features *

Only a trailer.

Summary:

Not every film needs to be smart, or influential, or life changing…sometimes entertaining is good enough.  A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy doesn’t need to take rank with Woody Allen’s most acclaimed masterpieces…it’s a funny, joyful little love letter of a movie that’s simply a splendid good time, and certainly a very worthwhile viewing experience.