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This A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM Adaptation Isn’t So Sweet (LAFF Review)

This A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM Adaptation Isn’t So Sweet (LAFF Review)

In theory, A Midsummer Night’s Dream ought to be one of William Shakespeare’s more cinematic plays, what with it taking place in an enchanted forest full of fairies and magic to which two young would-be couples escape. Indeed, it has been made into cinematic spectacle more than once: a 1935 film that cast James Cagney as Bottom and a 1999 version that used Stanley Tucci as a memorable Puck. A spectacle the 2017 version is not; other things it is not might include “effective” and “entertaining,” depending upon your perspective.

Re-setting the action from Greece to Hollywood (while nonetheless still calling it “Athens”) isn’t inherently a bad idea, but there needs to be a reason for it. Director Casey Wilder Mott intends his adaptation to be a commentary on class systems then and now, with studio executives substituting for royalty, film students in place of traveling theater troupes, and beach hippie stoner types as the fairies. That’s a decent enough starting point, but so what? When most of the action involves second-generation Hollywood talent walking around Topanga Canyon at night, getting enchanted and unenchanted, what is that commenting on? And why do we care, when the love spell storyline ends almost as quickly as it begins?

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Part of the problem is maintaining Shakespeare’s five-act structure for the screen; by the time the primary love story has been resolved, there are still 20 more minutes or so of musical numbers, weddings, and a painfully drawn-out Star Wars joke. For an hour-and-44-minute movie, that should be the place to trim the most. Or maybe one of fairy king Oberon’s songs could go.

In the original text, comic relief thespian Bottom (an overly screechy Fran Kranz) is given the head of a donkey by supernatural mischief-maker Puck; here, what with Puck being a pot-smoker, it makes sense that he’d interpret “ass” a different way, and that one semi-amusing tweak has naturally been the centerpiece of the movie’s trailer. But unless you find the idea of a butt-headed man having fully clothed sex with a fairy queen grinding atop him inherently hilarious, it’s not enough. And the bright red and purple filters so many scenes are shot through are seriously strain-inducing on the eyes.

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I suspect the inspiration here was Joss Whedon‘s Much Ado About Nothing, a modern-set Shakespeare adaptation the director filmed quickly and cheaply with friends like Clark Gregg and Nathan Fillion. But you can’t really do that with a more fantasy-oriented tale like this one, even with a Brechtian framing device suggesting we are watching somebody’s AFI student project (AFI, as “Athens Film Institute,” gets name-dropped quite a bit, and even given a mini-commercial). Besides, if you’re not Joss Whedon, trying to be him, while arguably a noble goal, is really hard.

Cast members you may recognize, like Rachael Leigh Cook and Lily Rabe, are fine but add little, while Avan Jogia’s Puck is so obviously modeled on Anthony Kiedis from the Red Hot Chili Peppers that I wished I were watching the real thing instead. At one point, he makes everyone in the woods fall asleep by deeply exhaling a cloud of “purple haze” marijuana smoke. It would not surprise me in the least to learn that this adaptation were conceived in much the same way.

Rating: 1 out of 5 burritos…out of respect to the original author

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Images: LAFF/5B Productions/Indie PR

Luke Y. Thompson is a writer-type guy who thinks LAFF itself is the real midsummer night’s dream.

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