LA Film Festival Review: ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ is Some Quirky Shakespeare

'A Midsummer Night's Dream' (2017) - Movie Review

‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ Retells Unrequited Romance in LA

Brush off a couple of those English textbooks from high school, because Shakespeare’s about get rather quirky. William Shakespeare’s classic works are surely no stranger to the big screen or small screen. And neither is his challenging romantic comedy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. But rest assure that you’ve never seen this interwoven tale of fairies and unrequited love quite like this.

Director Casey Wilder Mott transplants the timeless narrative from the woods of Greece to the heart of modern-day Los Angeles. The bustling City of Angels quickly becomes the backdrop for the multiple interconnected plots. Like the play, the Theseus, Duke of Athens, is set to wed Amazonian queen, Hippolyta. No, we’re not talking about Wonder Woman’s mother either. But in this case, Theseus, played by Ted Levine, is a hotshot film producer. That’s just the first of many oddities.

Actress Hermia (Rachael Leigh Cook) is set to be hooked up with Hollywood agent, Demetrius (Finn Wittrock). At least that’s what her father Egeus (Alan Blumenfeld) desires for this daughter. Hermia has her eyes set on the photographer Lysander (Hamish Linklater). Screenwriter Helena (Lily Rabe) wraps up the quartet smitten for Demetrius. It’s a blow-by-blow of Shakespeare’s vision in a more contemporary setting.

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If you’re not up on your Shakespeare, there’s going to be a clear disconnect between the director’s intentions and the audience. While its stylized nature is a sumptuous feast, its a roller coaster ride that expects a good amount of knowledge upon arrival. A Midsummer Night’s Dream in its original context already requires more energy than other Shakespearean works. Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Macbeth generally emerge as coherent adaptations. This, not so much.

All around performances are well-rounded. Lily Rabe is the standout of the romantic quartet. However, the film’s scene-stealer is the mischievous Puck (Avan Jogia), who’s been depicted as a prankster surfer. This most ridiculous feat is the transformation of the character Bottom, whom he misinterprets a donkey. Let’s just say that he literally turns into something worse than a donkey in this update. The contemporary humor doesn’t have that oddball vibe like the rest of the film, but it feels like something straight out of South Park. A clever, albeit juvenile prank for sure.

Some of A Midsummer Night’s Dream fires on all its meta cylinders, while there’s some downplayed misfires along the way as well. There are many references to film in general. The players are part of the Athens Film Institute (film enthusiasts should catch the AFI reference with no problem). Also be on the lookout for some Dirty Dancing, Pulp Fiction and Star Wars references as well. While the kinetic editing and references make many rejoice, there’s also plenty about the aesthetic to question. Red and purple become predominant during the woods sequence. I haven’t questioned an overuse of red since Oliver Stone’s Alexander.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream surely has some solid ideas. Inspired by both Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet and Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing, this quirky update offers up more experimental moments than memorable ones.

Written by
Matt Marshall has been reviewing films since 2003, starting with "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King." He specializes in home media, including 4K UHD, Blu-ray as well as box office analysis. He has a B.A. in Communications/Journalism from St. John Fisher College and resides in Rochester, NY.

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