A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy Review

(3.5 STARS)

With more than 40 titles on his resume, Woody Allen‘s career has rarely been static. He wouldn’t be working today if he made the same movie every year. While Woody Allen movies most certainly can be defined reflexively, his style is much more a matter of applying a precise tone to an exact (and usually unique) situation.

After beginning his career with wacky comedies like Love and Death and Bananas, Allen moved into dramatic territory. The killer one-two punch of Annie Hall and Manhattan meant that not long after he began making dramatic movies, he had nothing left to prove, and the 1980s saw him move back toward comedies, but many of these films, like A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy, are a little more experimental than the comedies Allen made in the 1970s.

A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy is a retelling of Ingmar Bergman’s Smiles of a Summer Night, and as such, it’s an extremely frothy look at romantic entanglements on a hot summer evening circa 1900. Unlike Bergman’s film, this one involves a wedding, as well as a flying bicycle and an orb that reveals the ghosts and spirits of past, present, and future love.

Andrew (Woody Allen) and Adrian (Mary Steenburgen) are an unhappily married couple set to host the wedding of Adrian’s cousin, the impossibly snobbish philosopher Leopold (Jose Ferrer). He’s marrying Ariel (Mia Farrow), who Adrian doesn’t realize is Andrew’s ex. Also invited is Andrew’s best friend, Maxwell (Tony Roberts), a doctor who invites his nurse Dulcy (Julie Hagerty) to make it a party of six.

Andrew is a burnt out stock broker who’s turned his energy toward his inventions, including the aforementioned flying bicycle. He’s able to accomplish quite a bit since he isn’t spending any time in bed with Adrian, who shrivels up at the thought of having sex. Andrew’s pined for Ariel ever since their courtship ended years ago, and while she’s about to marry, she’s not sure her feelings for Andrew have ever dissipated. Their relationship was never consummated in the bedroom, and both of wondered for years how their lives would be different if they ever became sexual together.

Meanwhile, Maxwell—a real playboy—falls in love with Ariel at first sight. These aren’t feelings he’s ever known before, and he’s willing to kill himself if she doesn’t leave Leopold for him. And Leopold, who never thought he’d give up the bachelor’s lifestyle, is getting cold feet. He wants to bed a woman—Dulcy?—before giving himself to Ariel for the rest of his life.

The relations are obviously quite complicated, but they’re also the source of much of the films humor. EVERYONE in the film has an ulterior motive; they all claim at various points to be going for a walk, but none of these six just goes for a walk. Watching Leopold and Maxwell (who loathe each other) accidentally meet while waiting to sleep with the other’s partner is gold. They not-so-casually discuss leaves as Ariel crashes the flying bicycle (Oh, that flying bicycle!) and Dulcy gives Adrian a lesson in intercourse. It’s a brilliant sequence.

The film falls on its face just a bit as it tries to wrap up each character’s story and all other sorts of loose ends satisfactorily. If anything, though, its clumsy attempts to do so add a nice dose of absurdism to the proceedings. You won’t often see A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy ranked among Woody Allen’s best. And certainly, it doesn’t measure up to Manhattan, Hannah and Her Sisters, or Annie Hall, but it’s a solid second-tier Allen film and a comedy that’s as zany as it is sure of itself.

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