Weaving Movie Magic
Whimsy, fantasy and romance combine to cast an enchanting spell in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Michael Hoffman’s film version of William Shakespeare’s famous comedy. With Kevin Kline in top form as Bottom, the Weaver, and gorgeous Michelle Pfeiffer as Titania, Queen of the Fairies, this visually stunning movie ends up being welcome nourishment to viewers hungry for something besides car chases, explosions and violence.
Director Hoffman, who also wrote the screenplay, changes the Bard’s ancient Greece setting to Tuscany, Italy, at the turn of the century. According to the film’s prologue, “It is a time when the bustle is in decline, giving rise to the invention of the bicycle.” He also makes the love story between Bottom and Titania more poignant by showing Bottom actually falling in love with the Queen of the Fairies. The rest of the plot remains fairly true to Shakespeare’s oft-quoted observation that the course of true love “never did run smooth.” And so, during one magical night, a pair of young lovers and a troupe of actors still find themselves in a forest inhabited by roguish spirits who turn love upside down here.
Happily, Hoffman dared to use an unusual mix of actors in this ambitious production. In addition to Kline and Pfeiffer, there’s Calista Flockhart (Helena), Rupert Everett (Oberon), Anna Friel (Hermia), pantomime artist Bill Irwin (Flute), Christian Bale (Demetrius), and Dominic West (Lysander). But the filmmaker’s biggest risk involved casting Stanley Tucci as the fairy trickster Puck, a role usually played by someone younger. (Eleven-year-old Mickey Rooney was Puck in the 1934 Warner Bros. version.)
It was a risk worth taking. Tucci’s performance emerges as one of the film’s most delightful surprises. His quizzical facial expressions while spying on the outcome of his mischief represent priceless acting gems. So do his childlike reactions at discovering a bicycle for the first time.
Inspite of Tucci’s impressive work, A Midsummer Night’s Dream belongs to the versatile Kline. Although some may find his performance too hammy, that’s the secret of its charm to me. Playing a member of an acting troupe who wants to do all the parts, Kline takes over the screen like Pavarotti commands an opera stage. His hilarious scenes in a play for the closing wedding celebration are among the funniest ever filmed.
Puck delivers one of Shakespeare’s most famous lines when he sums up the comical events by saying, “What fools these mortals be!” I admit feeling the same way about anyone who passes up this highly entertaining movie.
(Released by 20th Century Fox and rated “PG-13” for sensuality and brief nudity.)