A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy (1982)

Posted: March 2, 2015 in Movie Review
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A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy (1982)

Director: Woody Allen

Starring: Woody Allen, Mia Farrow, Jose Ferrer, Julie Hagerty, Tony Roberts, Mary Steenburgen

The idea that any of the six characters in this movie actually engage each other in the act of copulation leaves me feeling a bit nauseous. Fitting, given that’s typically the default reaction displayed by many of the men which Allen himself has portrayed over the years. It’s applicable here because of the ease in which they hop around between partners, with little beyond animal instinct to explain their actions. Although the line never comes up during the 88 minutes of “A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy,” that’s not to say that Allen’s character doesn’t come equipped with other hang-ups. Why shouldn’t he? Just look at the company he keeps.

From the moment I popped the DVD in, I knew I was screwed. Woody Allen plays Andrew, a crackpot inventor living in the early 1900’s whose marriage is suffering from trouble in the bedroom. Who plays Adrian, his wife? Mary Steenburgen. I’ve only ever seen this actress in one movie where I found her tolerable: 1978’s “Goin’ South,” in which her co-star was Jack Nicholson. I hoped that, perhaps, this being another period piece and the presence of another Hollywood legend would help out as with that other movie. It did not. Strike One! For Andrew, things get decidedly more complicated when it’s revealed that Adrian’s cousin Leopold (Jose Ferrer) is going to be spending the weekend with them and is bringing his bride-to-be, Ariel, with him. Andrew, who lusted after Ariel in the past and regrets not having acted upon it, freaks out. Ariel is played by Mia Farrow, who was terrific in “Rosemary’s Baby” but, like Steenburgen, grates on the nerves otherwise. The knowledge that her part was originally written for Diane Keaton (Woody Allen’s greatest on-screen partner) cannot be held against her, but doesn’t help matters either. We’re supposed to buy that all three men, at one time or another, want this woman badly. Never once do I get how the bland Ariel can be quite so desirable, and I can’t help thinking that Keaton might have been able to pull it off. Farrow has several Woody Allen films after this with which to correct my unfortunate impression of her but, for now, I call this “Strike Two!”

Help arrives in the form of Andrew’s doctor friend, Maxwell (Tony Roberts), who brings with him his nurse, Dulcy (Julie Hagerty). As she has done throughout her career, Hagerty uses her timid-sounding voice to her advantage. Dulcy is somewhat of an expert in the art of getting busy with the opposite sex. Maxwell knows this, hence the reason Dulcy is here. Julie Hagerty gets many of the movie’s best lines, especially in the scene where Dulcy is matter-of-factly answering questions which Adrian has about finding new ways to please Andrew. No doubt about it, Julie Hagerty is the stand-out of “A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy.”

Finally, we come to the glorified plot device of the movie… Andrew’s inventions. I’ll stop short of calling them the only reason for the 1900’s setting, because the plot of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is based on Ingmar Bergman’s “Smiles of a Summer Night,” which also features partner-swapping and is also set at the turn of the 20th century. The good: Andrew’s flying bicycle. Never mind the fact that this contraption always eventually comes crashing back down to Earth, or that none of its passengers ever seem to need medical attention after these violent landings. While it’s in the air, it’s simply fun to watch. The bad… or more accurately, the odd: whatever you call that spinning gizmo that is supposedly either a window into the past, future or the afterlife. Doesn’t really matter how it works, or what Andrew used in building the damn thing, neither of which we ever learn. What does matter is that it is really only here for the purposes of servicing the out-of-nowhere punchline ending. Strike Three!

Now, I recognize that not every director can piece together a winner every time. When you have a career that spans the decades as his does, disappointing titles like “Alice,” “Shadows and Fog,” and “A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy” are bound to slip through the cracks. When stinkers such as these do crop up, I am always consoled by the fact that they are in most cases followed up by true works of art. Here’s to hoping for a continuation of that trend.


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