A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy (1982)
Written and Directed by: Woody Allen
And now we go from one of modern cinema’s most reclusive artists, Terrence Malick, to one of its most prolific, Woody Allen. Allen has made 40 films in the last 44 years, with two more on the way. With production like that, there are bound to be some stinkers. But Allen has also made some masterpieces. So where does “A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy” fall on the spectrum?
This film is perhaps most notable for being Allen’s first collaboration with Mia Farrow, an arrangement that worked out beautifully for a while and then ended horrifically (at least for their personal lives). It’s also worth noting that this marks one of the few times that Allen has acted in a film as part of an ensemble, not the lead actor.
Allen plays Andrew, a Wall Street broker who’s also an aspiring inventor. It’s turn-of-the-century America and Andrew has escaped to his summer home with his wife Adrian (Mary Steenburgen). Joining the couple are Andrew’s skirt-chasing doctor friend Maxwell (Tony Roberts), his oversexed nurse Dulcy (Julie Hagerty), an arrogant college professor named Leopold (Jose Ferrer) and his soon-to-be-wife Ariel (Mia Farrow).
Despite the setting, this is no period piece. It could really take place anytime. The center pieces of the film are the same themes that Allen is known for revisiting: sexual dysfunction, fidelity, mortality and the nature of true love. All of the characters in this film are grappling with one (or all of these issues). Adrian and Andrew have lost the spark in their marriage. Maxwell falls for Ariel. Leopold lusts for Dulcy. Andrew also struggles with his feelings for Ariel, a former flame. And almost everyone, at some point, tries to shtup someone other than the person they should be shtupping.
All of this plays out in a quasi-magical manner. Aside from the title, the film also borrows Shakespeare’s fondness of for ghosts and enchantment. There’s even a touch of the fantastic. Andrew’s inventions include a flying bicycle (used to much comic effect) and a lantern that can project images from the past and future.
But the real focus of the film is the six miserable people at the center of it. Allen is known for his portrayals of sexually frustrated neurotics, but everyone gets to join in on the fun this time. Hollywood legend has it that Allen wrote the script for this film in two weeks, under pressure from the studio to make a hit. Judged by that standard, the film is a rousing success.
But it also lacks weight. As fun as it is (and it is fun, and funny, at regular intervals), it’s also insubstantial. Woody Allen’s best films are unforgettable. His worst films are ones you’d like to forget. This one might prove difficult to remember. There’s nothing really wrong with it, other than a noticeably rushed, somewhat unsatisfying ending. The performances are strong and Allen’s brand of humor is timeless. But it’s the kind of film that leaves your consciousness as quickly as it entered. Like one of the characters at the end, it simply drifts away into the night to frolic with the others.