A Midsummer Night's Dream - C+
Viewed May 15,1999 at Union Square

There is such a thing as too much respect for Shakespeare, as Michael Hoffman's stiff take on A Midsummer Night's Dream proves. It's the kind of movie that gives middlebrow a bad name. The best Shakespearean film adaptation in recent years was Richard Loncraine's reimagining of Richard III as a commentary on 20th-century totalitarianism; it had a fiery verve and energy that was far more faithful in spirit to Shakespeare's play than this more literal rendition. There's little imagination in Hoffman's version; the film's only major reinterpretation of the text is updating the action to 19th century Tuscany[1], which the film so clearly explains to us at the beginning so us kiddies don't get confused. The production design of the fairy kingdom is abysmal; going for sensual, it achieves terminal feyness. The acting is also disappointing. There are a few exceptions, but most of the actors might as well be mannequins; they give no trace of personality to their roles. Thank god for Kevin Kline, though. As Bottom, one of our most consumate hams gives a superb performance that's boisterously comic seasoned with just a bit of the tragic. In the film's comic climax he's ably supported by a coterie of clowns (including Bill Irwin, Sam Rockwell, and Max Wright[2]). Their raucous rendition of "Pyramus and Thisbe" is almost reason enough to see the film despite the tedium of the preceding 90 minutes. Outside of them, the only actor who makes any kind of positive impression is Callista Flockhart. Her Helena is only a less annoying version of Ally McBeal[3], but at least she has a personality, something of a rarity in this film.

[1] Which just underlines how crassly middlebrow it is; this is a film that almost seems designed to get good reviews in The New York Times.
[2] The perils of watching too much crap TV as a kid : I kept wondering when ALF was going to pop up. (Actually, he might have made a more interesting Puck than the badly-miscast Stanley Tucci). Why does the dumb crap we watched as children haunt us so?
[3] I've seen the show .. once. It's godawful shit.