[Screen It]


(1999) (Kevin Kline, Calista Flockhart) (PG-13)

Blood/Gore Disrespectful/
Bad Attitude
Tense Scenes
Moderate Minor Mild Minor Minor
Minor None Minor None Minor
Smoking Tense Family
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Heavy Minor Minor Mild Minor

Comedy: A magical love potion affects two sets of lovers, an amateur theatrical group, and the King and Queen of the fairies on a midsummer night in an enchanted forest.
In late 19th century Tuscany, Duke Theseus (DAVID STRATHAIRN) is planning his wedding to the beautiful Hippolyta (SOPHIE MARCEAU) who's not particularly excited about her pending nuptials. His attention, however, is now focused on settling a dispute regarding an arranged marriage.

It seems that a member of the court has promised his daughter, Hermia (ANNA FRIEL), to marry the dashing Demetrius (CHRISTIAN BALE), but she has her sights set on Lysander (DOMINIC WEST), whom she loves and wishes to marry instead. When Theseus decides Hermia should obey her father, she runs off with Lysander on their newfangled contraptions -- bicycles -- and plan to elope.

Demetrius learns of their plan, however, and sets after the lovers with Hermia's best friend, Helena (CALISTA FLOCKHART), who longs for Demetrius, pedaling after him in hot pursuit into the nighttime forest. There, a small band of amateur performers is rehearsing a play they wish to perform at the Duke's wedding. Among them is Nick Bottom (KEVIN KLINE), a ham of an actor who's to play the lead, along with Peter Quince (ROGER REES), Tom Snout (BILL IRWIN), Francis Flute (SAM ROCKWELL), Starveling (MAX WRIGHT) and Snug (GREGORY JBARA).

Unbeknownst to them or the quartet of crossed lovers, the forest is a magical place full of fairies including their king, Oberon (RUPERT EVERETT), and queen, Titania (MICHELLE PFEIFFER) who aren't exactly getting along with one another.

Thus, Oberon orders his mischievous assistant, Puck (STANLEY TUCCI), to whip up a powerful love potion to cast a spell on his wife. The problem is, it works on whomever she'll see first, and that happens to be Bottom, notwithstanding the fact that Puck has caused the thespian to now have the head of an ass.

As the potion also affects Hermia, her two lovers and her best friend, it's unclear who will end up with whom as Theseus and Hippolyta's wedding day approaches where Bottom and his men hope to perform their rendition of "The Most Lamentable Comedy, and Cruel Death of Pyramus and Thisbe."

While the thought of watching a filmed version of a play they've probably had to read in English class will send many running for the hills, the all-star cast may draw some teens to this film.
For sensuality and nudity.
  • ANNA FRIEL plays a young woman who flees with her lover, played by DOMINIC WEST, from an arranged marriage with plans to elope together. After he fondles her breast while nude, they're later found sleeping together nude in the forest and then again in bed.
  • CHRISTIAN BALE plays Hermia's promised fiancÚ, but he ends up with her best friend, played by CALISTA FLOCKHART, and those two are found in the same state of undress with the other two (both in the forest and in bed under the covers).
  • KEVIN KLINE plays a ham of an actor who, after having his head turned into that of an ass, fools around with the Queen of the fairies, played by MICHELLE PFEIFFER.
  • RUPERT EVERETT plays the King of the fairies who, wanting to reconcile with Titania, orders his mischievous lieutenant, played by STANLEY TUCCI, to concoct a love potion that accidently has mixed up results.


    OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
    Shakespeare, like many things in life, is certainly an acquired taste. Despite centuries of well- deserved adoration from those involved in the theater and scholars, as well as otherwise pompous snobs who adopt the playwright's works as a means of showing off their own pretentiousness, mainstream audiences often have a hard time following the dialogue. Whether they see the Bard's works on the stage or as cinematic adaptions seems to make no difference if anything resembling the original, poetic verse is present.

    Some have tried addressing that issue and have modified Shakespeare's works in hopes of allowing greater audiences to enjoy them. The recent "10 Things I Hate About You" was a modern retelling -- with present day, high school English -- of "The Taming of the Shrew" and the Jessica Lange film, "A Thousand Acres," was a farm-set retelling of "King Lear." Meanwhile Baz Luhrmann's "Romeo+Juliet" kept the original dialogue, but turned up the action and style to make the film more hip and palatable to the film's teen-targeted audience.

    Going more of the traditional route, but still taking some artistic liberties, is the latest filmed adaption of "A Midsummer Night's Dream." Unlike the recently released critical and audience favorite, "Shakespeare in Love," however -- that the Bard obviously didn't write but which Fox Searchlight Pictures is certainly hoping to capitalize on via the name connection -- this one isn't as inherently "audience friendly" due to the inclusion of that period dialogue.

    Much like my initial viewing of "The Commitments" -- or any other heavily accented film -- it took me until about half way through the proceedings until I become acclimated and comfortable with the dialogue and could fully enjoy what was occurring.

    While only purists and diehard fans will know if the included verse is completely accurate, they'll probably cringe when anyone -- including this reviewer -- reports that last year's Best Picture winner is a far more entertaining picture with better performances and a more solid overall construction and execution.

    That's not to say that this film is bad. For whatever time it takes most moviegoers to fit into its "groove," once they do they'll be treated to a cute and charming, but lightweight diversion that looks great -- courtesy of Oliver Stapleton ("One Fine Day," "The Grifters") and despite the "enchanted" forest obviously being a set -- and which features a well-known and talented cast of performers.

    It's that the story itself -- despite the testing of time over several centuries -- just isn't that exciting or, for that matter, very interesting to mainstream viewers. While there's enough there to keep one from being bored, the plot isn't exactly one of Shakespeare's strongest and seems to meander a bit too often. At times one can't help but get the feeling that the well-known cast is partially present simply to hold the viewer's interest.

    It's that latter point that often worries Shakespearean purists who cringe at the thought of Keanu Reeves appearing in "Much Ado About Nothing," or Jack Lemmon taking on the role of Marcellus in "Hamlet," all while trying to establish themselves as more "serious actors" at the Bard's expense.

    While some of those experiences have been a bit painful and others have been acceptable, for such purists and this film overall, there are no cringe-inducing moments or performances. Veteran performers such as Kevin Kline ("In & Out," the upcoming remake of "The Wild, Wild West") and Michelle Pfeiffer ("The Deep End of the Ocean," "Dangerous Liaisons") seem perfectly cast and deliver fine takes of their characters, while Stanley Tucci ("The Impostors," "Big Night") is delightful as the mischievous Puck.

    Meanwhile, "newer" stars such as Calista Flockhart (TV's "Ally McBeal") -- the one performer on most purists' possible "cringe" list for this film -- and Rupert Everett ("My Best Friend's Wedding") easily hold their own and certainly don't draw undue attention to their performances, or themselves as actors trying to stretch their thespian wings (even though some may see a bit of Ally in Helena).

    Although the play's die-hard fans may balk at those observations and the choice of writer/director Michael Hoffman ("One Fine Day," "Restoration") to move the play's original setting to Tuscany near the turn of the 20th century -- including the introduction of that newfangled contraption, the bicycle, as a means of transportation -- such modifications don't seem to have harmed the production in any major fashion.

    In fact, they bring some new life to this otherwise repeatedly overproduced and often too familiar piece of work. After all, this is the latest in a long line of filmed adaptions of the play that includes the Oscar nominated 1935 version starring Mickey Rooney as Puck and James Cagney as Bottom. The modifications, while perhaps a bit radical, haven't lessened the story's overall thrust that remains relatively the same as when it first appeared on stage many centuries ago.

    Of course, mainstream moviegoers -- who are suddenly hot on Shakespeare due to the recent Gwyneth Paltrow starring vehicle -- may be surprised and disappointed to find the film using the original, and initially difficult to follow, dialogue. If they give themselves the time to get acclimated to it, however, and perhaps pre-read a summary of the plot before seeing the film, they'll probably find this moderately charming, but lightweight film to their liking.

    Although it took a while to get accustomed to the poetic verse (which was exacerbated by a poor sound system in an old, echoey theater), I found the film mildly enjoyable, but nothing about which to get overly excited, except for a lively and quite funny stage performance filled with bad acting that ends the production. While purists will probably flock to the theaters to see it, the fact that film opens just within days of that little "Star Wars" prequel means it won't be long before you'll be able to view it on video. We give "William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream" a 5 out of 10.

    The following is a brief summary of the content found in this PG-13 rated adaption of Shakespeare's play. The rating comes from sensuality and nudity, and as such, some brief and/or partially obscured nudity (covered by hair, foliage, or holding clothes in front of one's crotch) occurs and some of it is sexually related.

    Several instances of suggested or partially seen sexual behavior also occur, such as fondling of clothed breasts, women giggling over a man's suggested erection, and the sight of unmarried couples lying nude and cuddled in the woods and later in separate beds.

    Beyond that, some drinking occurs with a few characters briefly appearing intoxicated and one character smokes. Profanity is extremely limited and minor in nature, while a few brief and non- graphic struggles break out between characters. The remaining categories, though, have little or nothing in the way of major objectionable content. Should you still be concerned about the film's appropriateness, however, we suggest you more closely examine the listed content.

    For those concerned with such material, a few repeated full screen flashes of light illuminate the screen during a thunderstorm (but are far enough apart not to be strobe-like).

  • One of Bottom's fellow theater performers drinks something that may be alcoholic.
  • Some kids pour wine on Bottom from above him.
  • Mystical cave dwellers drink something that may be alcoholic and Puck appears to be a bit intoxicated upon leaving.
  • Servants carry wine/champagne for the wedding, and later Helena, Demetrius, Hermia and Lysander have wine in glasses in front of them.
  • Some of Bottom's troupe exits a building with bottles of liquor and all appear a bit intoxicated.
  • We briefly see/hear Puck peeing outside.
  • We see what looks like a bit of a bloody scrape on Helena's knee.
  • Some satyrs steal items from an estate (silverware, a Victrola, etc...) and take them back to the forest.
  • Some viewers may not like the film's dealings with fairies and other similar creatures and spirits, etc... or the casting of spells on others (for love or turning Bottom's head into that of an ass).
  • Some of the darker and more mysterious images/scenes set in the nighttime forest might be a little unnerving to the youngest of kids (as might a brief glimpse of the snake-haired Medusa), but it's doubtful little kids will want to see this movie.
  • Sword: Used on the stage by Bottom and Flute to pretend killing themselves.
  • It's possible that some kids may call others an "ass" after seeing the film.
  • Puck pees outside.
  • Some kids pour wine on Bottom from above him.
  • None.
  • A tiny bit of such music plays during the film.
  • None.
  • 2 hells, and 2 asses (and possibly more, but some are used literally referencing donkey-related terms) are used as exclamations.
  • Beyond what's listed below, other Shakespearean dialogue dealing with sexual matters (written in a direct or indirect fashion) may also be present.
  • Lysander mentions that Demetrius "made love" to someone's daughter.
  • A comment is made about bringing "joy" to a couple's bed.
  • We briefly see a fairy's bare breasts, and then see the same of several of them who are wading -- presumably nude -- in a chest-high pond.
  • Demetrius briefly mentions Helena's virginity as he tries to come on to her, but when she doesn't mind the advances and returns them herself, he immediately backs off.
  • We briefly see most of the side of a woman's bare breasts as she swings by on a swing.
  • Titania shows some cleavage, while Hermia shows a great deal in several scenes.
  • In one of those, Lysander snuggles up to Hermia and feels her clothed breast. She stops him and then notices that he's completely nude (we see just a brief glimpse of part of his bare butt) and innocently laughs when looking down at his crotch area. He then feels her clothed breasts again, but she stops him and makes him sleep across the way.
  • We see the bare upper part of Titania's thighs as she sleeps.
  • A comment is briefly made about fornication.
  • Titania, deep in love with Bottom due to Puck's romance spell, takes his hand and puts it on her clothed breast. They then kiss, but she backs up and gets a smile on her face as she looks down to his crotch (we don't see what is presumably his erection, or at minimum, his bare genitals) and her attending fairies also giggle at that sight.
  • We then see Titania sitting atop Bottom (but no movement or nudity) and he then rolls over on top of her with her long flowing hair covering her bare breasts (but again, no movement or nudity).
  • We see Oberon on top of Titania kissing her, but the camera pans away before anything else is seen.
  • We briefly see the bare breasts of a fairy doing some laundry.
  • The Duke and others find Helena and Demetrius and Hermia and Lysander sleeping nude in the woods as snuggled couples. Due to the way their bodies are positioned, we don't see any explicit nudity, but do see glimpses of the sides of men and women's bare butts and see that Helena's long hair covers her bare breasts. The four then stand up and we see parts of their bare butts (mostly blocked by foreground objects) as well as a frontal glimpse of the foursome where we see Lysander barely covering his crotch area with some clothing.
  • We see Bottom's bare hip as he sleeps.
  • Bottom stares at a bare-breasted statue that presumably reminds him of Titania.
  • We see Lysander and Hermia in bed, presumably nude under the sheets and kissing. We then see the same thing with Helena and Demetrius (with the sheet covering her from the waist down and her hair covering her breasts).
  • One of Bottom's fellow theater performers smokes several times during the film.
  • Evidently Bottom doesn't get along with his wife as he avoids her in public and then tries to sneak into the house without her knowing he's done so.
  • Oberon and Titania appear to be having some sort of martial problems.
  • How the film differs from Shakespeare's original play.
  • The sexual material that occurs among unmarried couples.
  • Demetrius and Lysander briefly struggle.
  • Hermia smacks Demetrius thinking that he's done something to Lysander.
  • Demetrius and Lysander briefly struggle over Helena. Hermia then tackles Helena into a mud puddle where they struggle while Demetrius and Lysander do the same again on dry land.
  • Oberon grabs and squeezes Puck's ear for goofing up the magic spells.

  • Reviewed April 30 , 1999 / Posted May 14, 1999

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