A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy

Joel Cunningham

One of the few Woody Allen films that doesn't take place in New York, and one of the few in which Allen is not the central character, A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy is Allen's homage to the comedies of Shakespeare, Renoir, and Bergman. The name is no mere contrivanceˇstructurally, the film is very similar to A Midsummer Night's Dream, full of mistaken identity and secret liaisons. Unfortunately, Allen's attempt to create a lighthearted, literary comedy falls somewhat flat. It has clever dialogue, and some quirky characters, but it isn't very memorable, or very funny for that matter.

Andrew (Allen) and Adrian (Steenburgen) are a couple living in the country around the turn of the century. Recently, they have been having some marital problems, especially in the bedroom. When an old flame of Andrew's, Ariel (Farrow), arrives unexpected for a visit, along with her much older fianc╚ Leopold (Ferrer), the two reevaluate their past decisions, questioning what might have been. Meanwhile, Leopold is lusting after Dulcy (Hagerty), a "modern" nurse visiting with boyfriend Maxwell (Roberts), who, it turns out, is also quite smitten with Ariel. The six spend the weekend swapping partners and philosophical discussion, and attempt to discover the true meaning of love, and the place of sex in a relationship.

The characters are eccentric enoughˇAllen a madcap inventor, Maxwell a doctor better at bedding patients than curing themˇand would fit well into an energetic farce (as the title suggests). Somewhat jarring, then, is the downright leisurely pace. Allen's usually rapid-fire dialogue seems more measured than usual, and even the broader scenes of physical comedy seem to drag a bit. The picture is only 86 minutes long, but even with Allen's trademarked brevity, it feels slow and somewhat labored.

Also unsatisfying is Allen's attempt to raise the featherweight comedy to greater intellectual heights with the inclusion of a bunch of gobbledygook about the nature of reality and the afterlife. Allen's character invents a device that channels energy and reveals, supposedly, the metaphysical world, but the several heated debates on the subject never seem to go anywhere, and Allen's invention, in the end, seems only to be a cheap plot device. The ending is also rather unsatisfying, and, dare I say it, trite, especially considering the attempts at intelligent discourse earlier in the film.

On the positive side, the cast is very strong, full of Allen regulars like Farrow and Roberts. All play their parts well, and each fits well into the period atmosphere. Likewise, the cinematography from Gordon Willis is wonderful. He captures the beauty of nature with the same practiced eye that captured the elegance of New York in Allen's Manhattan.

It's hard to totally write off a Woody Allen film, and this one does indeed have its strong points, but it certainly doesn't stand out in the director's impressive resume. It's perhaps the weakest of the films in the third Allen box set from MGM, and recommended to completists only.

The liner notes indicate that Allen wrote A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy during a bit of downtime as he was waiting to film Zelig. The script took him two weeks to write. And while it does feature eccentric characters and situations, and some of Allen's trademarked wit, the picture falls flat. Allen is at his best when his work has something to say (even if it is said through broad satire). This one simply feels a bit empty.

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