Even though it’s only May, summer weather made its first appearance of the year last week in my part of the world. Hotter days and warm and muggy nights have made my mind wander to the impending arrival of summer. I’m a autumnal fanatic, a fall freak, if you will, but there’s certainly a charming splendor to summertime. Sure, the early days of summer can be a shock to the system after a cold winter and a manic spring, but then you hit that sweet spot: midsummer. There’s just something magical about that time, especially when you’re younger and it feels as if anything’s possible during those endless summer nights.
So my mind wanders some more. Thinking about that magical midsummer feeling evokes thoughts of one of my favorite Shakespeare movie adaptations, Michael Hoffman’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1999). It’s a beautiful looking movie that really captures that fantastical midsummer night feeling for me. It’s a comfort movie, the kind I can put on and forget my cares while watching, fully absorded in the lovely rythyms of Shakepearean dialogue and the stunning set designs. In his 1999 review for the San Francisco Chronicle Peter Stack wrote that, “Purists will quibble, but William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a playful, sexy piece of work—just what the Bard might have conjured up for a movie adaptation of his beloved spring-fever comedy. The film is over the top—and willfully so…”
It’s also a joy to watch due to its insanely talented ensemble cast (okay, maybe Calista Flockhart isn’t insanely talented, but she’s talented and holds her own): Kevin Kline, Rupert Everett, Stanley Tucci, Sophie Marceaux, Christian Bale, David Strathairn, Roger Rees, Sam Rockwell, and—wait for it—the only woman alive in 1999 fit to play the otherworly beauty Titania, Queen of the fairies: Michelle Pfeiffer.
Michelle’s casting is, in a word, perfection. Her natural ethereal beauty, already supernatural, is further enhanced by the absolutely exquisite costume designs, hair and makeup, and lighting effects. She glows. Not just a radiant beauty, Titania is also strong-willed and powerful. In some ways, her storyline is kind of disturbing, because it’s all about her husband Oberon (Rupert Everett in the film) punishing her for having the temerity to stand up to him. No Sweat Shakespeare describes Titania’s subplot:
In that story, she has a dispute with Oberon and he punishes her by using a potion that makes her fall in love with the first creature she lays eyes on when she awakens. She wakes up and sees Bottom, who has been turned into an ass by Puck because he has been behaving like an ass. That leads to a great deal of comic content, after which the matter is resolved with the spell broken, Bottom being returned to his former condition, and Titania horrified by what has happened to her.
Reading the descriptoin might make you wince, but this being a Shakespearean comedy, all of this love potion nonsense is played for laughs, much in the way it would be in the funny and sweet 1992 Sandra Bullock-Tate Donovan film Love Potion No. 9. And Michelle and Kevin Kline, who plays Bottom, have such sparkling chemistry that it’s all a pure delight to watch. Whenever it cuts away from their scenes, I instantly want more. The actors seem like they had a wonderful time shooting their scenes together.
Michelle isn’t the only gorgeous part of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, though. The entire film is gorgeous. Poduction designer Luciana Arrighi, art directors Maria Teresa Barbasso, Andrea Gaeta, Gianni Giovagnon, set decorator Ian Whittaker, costume designer Gabriella Pescucci, and the entire makeup department deserve a special notice for their work. The movie’s overall beauty is a large part of what makes it comfort viewing for me, besides the playful dialogue, of course. Some films make you want to live inside the worlds they create; this is one such film for me. One of the reasons summer nights from our youth take on such a nostalgic glow over time is because our memories of those beautiful, starlit evenings grow and expand into epic, cinematic events. This film really captures that. Titania’s forest scenes feel lush and dreamlike, the sort of place you want to linger in for all time because it soothes you. And if Michelle as Titania is there to keep you company and tell you, “Out of this wood do not desire to go,” well then, all the better.
In Michelle’s filmography, A Midsummer Night’s Dream stands alongside some other oft-overlooked comfort favorites of mine, like One Fine Day (1996) and Stardust (2007), both of which I really need to write about here sometime. For now, all this waxing nostalgic about magical summer nights has cinched it for me: I’m definitely scheduling another viewing of the film this summer—in late July or early August, appropriately.