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A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy (1982)

by on 2011/02/20

A stack of romance-themed movies upon my desk, I asked my beloved teenager Miss_Tree which movie she wanted to watch next. She immediately and without hesitation selected Woody Allen’s A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy.

After I stopped laughing, I guaranteed her she’d be disappointed. I said the movie wasn’t half as interesting as the title suggested.

I was right. She was disappointed. But unfortunately so was I.

This was a strange feeling. Mr. Allen has so rarely disappointed me. In fact, he has never disappointed me.

I had previously seen this 1982 movie, based loosely on the Ingmar Bergman Smiles of a Summer Night and Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream.  Allen’s Midsummer had clearly left almost no impression on me. My adoration of Woody Allen was and is unshakable.

However this particular viewing left me singularly unimpressed. So much so, I wandered off in search of a second opinion. And yes, the world of criticism backed me on this confusing feeling of disappointment.

Critic Neil Sinyard called the film “painterly” noting that the visual style was inspired by French impressionist painters like Renoir. The idea was settling and kind. It is a lovely film – filled with birds and bunnies and wildflowers and long grass. In fact, the setting was the absolute best part.

The rest was interesting, even intermittently charming. Unfortunately the parts failed to create compelling whole. Set in the 1900s, it features couples converging on a summer house for a weekend wedding. The house is owned by an eccentric inventor Andrew (Woody Allen) and his frigid wife Adrian (Mary Steenburgen).

Andrew and Adrian’s loveless marriage is further complicated by the fact that the bride-to-be is Andrew’s long-lost-love Ariel (Mia Farrow). Farrow (Rosemary’s Baby), the flaxen-haired One That Got Away, is about to be married to a pompous blowhard, Leopold (José Ferrer), a noted philosopher (and frankly ass).

The other couple is comprised of Andrew’s best friend and inveterate philanderer Maxwell (Tony Roberts) and his nurse girlfriend Dulcy (Julie Hagerty). In Allen’s greater works, I felt only fleeting moments of confusion about what he saw in Tony Roberts. In this lesser work, Mr. Roberts seriously got on my nerves. Hagerty as the free-loving (bouncy bouncy) nurse was considerably more entertaining.

Like French farce, the couples spend the weekend pairing off and squaring off about love, lust and passion. Also like a farce, there are plenty of slamming doors, windows, and lies about long baths and naps.

Gorgeous cinematography and moments of funny dialogue  notwithstanding, this was one of Allen’s rare misfires in a lifetime of wonderful work. For better Allen films reviewed on this site, check out Annie Hall and Whatever Works.

However even Allen’s lesser works are still something worth seeing.

* * *

PG for some sexual situations and some of the characters totally smoke (they sure do smoke)

88 minutes

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