Media Thursday: A Midsummer Night’s Dream (film directed by Casey Wilder Mott)

Last Friday, I posted an LA Times review of an independent film version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by Casey Wilder Mott, that is on a limited run at West Los Angeles’ Nuart Theater. This past weekend, as a part of a “Midsummer” day of Shakespeare, Lisa and I caught a screening before heading down to Griffith Park for Independent Shakespeare Company’s production of that same play.

 

Well, this film is very indie.

If you’re expecting some staid, by-the-book, adaptation, keep walking, bub. If you’re looking for a very meta, very quirky, very self-aware little indie that practically grabs you by the face and screams “LOOK AT ME!” then your prayers may have been answered. The film begins with a clapboard for the film itself, so you know you’re in a different world immediately, and within seconds you know what that world is: modern-day Hollywood–here known as Athens (there’s a funny bit with a “commercial” for “Athens Film Institute” using the logo for AFI, the American Film Institute… of course, I’m not sure how funny that would be for those outside soCal or the industry, but I found it funny).

“Duke” Theseus is a film producer. Hermia Puppet (H-Pup to the tabloids) is a starlet, Helena Maypole a poet, Demetrius a high-powered broker, Lysander an artist. The rude mechanicals are young thespians working on an independent film.

The script–also by Mott–is chopped and rearranged. But as the film uses its visuals to tell the story, it works for the most part. There are some great distillations of dialogue into text messages and emojis, and some pretty damned funny callouts to other plays (are they too-witty-by-half at times? maybe, but the Shakespeare geek in me was having a blast trying to catch them all, so I didn’t care).

Are there some clunky aspects? Absolutely… many of the transitions felt hard-pressed, the changing of color palettes by filmic section felt a bit much, and while I like Ted Levine as an actor, his enunciation garbles much of the text–it is a little off-putting, too, to think of The Silence of the Lambs‘ Buffalo Bill as a film producer (and Paz de la Huerta as Hippolyta? I’m not sure what film she was working on, but it didn’t seem to be the one everyone else on the set was on). While the sight gag bit for Bottom–instead of a donkey’s head, he wears a butt-head (an “ass,” get it?) could work…its execution here–too hard, not fleshy enough–was just kind of creepy.

Hmmm. That last paragraph makes it sound like I didn’t like the film. Not true at all. For the most part, I enjoyed the hell out of this. The rest of the major performances were, I thought, very very good. Lily Rabe as Helena, Rachael Leigh Cook as Hermia, Finn Wittrock as Demetrius, and Hamish Linklater as Lysander were all solid (the last one, last seen by me as a relatively underwhelming Prince Hal in last month’s Hanks-heavy Henry the Fourth, was especially good). Avan Jogia as a surfer-dude Puck, Fran Kranz as Bottom, and Charity Wakefield as Quince were also very effective.

Also, Mott deserves kudos for “fixing” a script problem in the source material. Demetrius has always seemed to be just a flat-out d-bag to me. Here, however, we learn why he–who had been betrothed to Helena in the past–would suddenly turn his affections to Hermia. It worked for me (of course, I’m not sure if I’d still take him back if I was in Helena’s heels, but that’s another thing entirely).

Do I recommend it?

Absolutely. You might not enjoy it all (especially if you’re looking for a more traditional vision or film), but if you just go with it, I think think the film might just sweep you up in its almost palpable unbridled joy.

[oh, and I think that trailer above doesn’t do the film justice…]

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