If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber’d here
While these visions did appear.
Casey Wilder Mott certainly knew that updating a Shakespeare play to present-day L.A. would call down instant comparisons to Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 film Romeo + Juliet. He doesn’t shy away from that comparison, he embraces it, including visual callbacks to Luhrmann’s signature red curtain.
Hollywood becomes Athens and these shadows do not offend.
Mott imbues this comedic confection with such comfortable grace and style that it feels like riding in a brand new luxury car version of Shakespeare. This film is pure delight.
It’s critical that you know the text before going in or you will miss much of the nuance. I can’t emphasize this enough: this should not be your first exposure to this play. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is arguably one of Shakespeare’s most challenging plays for an audience because it’s supposed to be light and fluffy… a poorly remembered dream with amusing flashes of humor and absurdity. Digging through the Elizabethan English can give it a ponderous gravitas that was never intended. This play was meant to be summer fun and frivolity.
“This film is pure delight.”
I directed a trashy Southern-ized version of the play called A Midsummer Night’s Texas Sized Nightmare. It’s abridged and intentionally messed up, but enough of the original text was intact that the cast all learned a real appreciation for the bawdy humor and whimsy that’s woven throughout. Some of it is very subtle.
Fran Kranz is one of Joss Whedon’s crew and he was also Claudio in Whedon’s marvelous Much Ado About Nothing. Updated Shakespeare is not new ground for him. His performance as Bottom in this movie is inspired hilarity. He and Mott pull off a brilliantly raunchy comical sight gag so obvious that once you see it you’ll wonder why no one thought of it before.
Ted Levine plays Theseus with authority and humor. Paz De La Huerta gives Hippolyta a sleek sexuality unusual for the character. Shakespeare was throwing off dirty jokes and innuendo right and left if you know how to hear them. Theseus says to Hippolyta “I wooed thee with my sword, but I will wed thee in another key.” Of course, as a Duke in the play, it makes sense that in transporting the setting to L.A. royalty is achieved by making Duke Theseus a powerful movie producer. We meet our leading lady Hermia as the Duke’s most bankable star with fun parody posters of popular films she’s been in.
“…it’s with Puck that the fortunes of this show rise and fall and Canadian actor Avan Jogia just kills it.”
Mott’s choice of singers Saul Williams and Mai Doi Todd as fairy king and queen Oberon and Titania works perfectly: the fairies are lyrical and musical in their movement and speech. These two are both beautiful in their own space, Williams with menace and fury and Todd with grace and sensuality. Of course, they sing too.
For my money, the heart of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is always Puck… it’s with Puck that the fortunes of this show rise and fall and Canadian actor Avan Jogia just kills it. Puck is a surfer dude with an entourage of California girl fairy spirits who hang out with him getting high, doing yoga and tai chi, and waking to beautiful sunrises in his elegant airstream camper high above the sea. Trust me, you want to be Puck.
As the film glides into it’s last act with dazzling settings and the stunning sunset over the Hollywood hills the comfort food glow sets in. Puck bids us give him our hands if we be friends, and we realize we are, and that we’ll miss him and all the players.
I would like to thank Casey Mott personally for making this movie. It makes me happy that it exists. He approached it with such humor and affection I can’t imaging anyone disliking it. If I’m wrong about that I’d like a list of people who say they don’t care for it so I can avoid them.
So go thee hence and stir up the Athenian youth to merriments. Awake the pert and nimble spirit of mirth and indulge in a film I feel certain Shakespeare himself would enjoy.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream (2017) Written and directed by: Casey Wilder Mott. Starring: Fran Kranz, Ted Levine, Rachael Leigh Cook, Justine Lupe.
9 out of 10