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Puck with Pluck

Midsummer Night's Dream masters the Bard's edgy fantasy

It's with the mechanicals that Hoffman shows the common touch. Kline makes Bottom lovable, complex and humanly convincing. Handsome, with an edge of shabbiness, he's a fatuous ass even before he's transformed, and he's authentically romantic even with donkey's ears growing out of his head. And his speech after he awakes is a spine-tingler.

Is there something Kline can't do? His classic turn in A Fish Called Wanda showed he's one of the great comic villains. His boyishness probably won't allow him to pull off serious villainy until he's older. Other than that, there can be few actors alive without grounds for envying him.

The other mechanicals get less to do but take advantage of what they get. Roger Rees is a diplomatic Quince;, wonderful Max Wright, attended by a sweet little terrier, is a put-upon Starveling; and Bill Irwin's Snout and Gregory Jbara's Snug provide what is needed from them. Hoffman's most inspired piece of invention, though, is allowing Flute (Sam Rockwell) to become a good actor in his final speech as Thisbe. It cuts the froth with a whisper of romantic poignancy, and it chases away four centuries of aristocratic patronization.

William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.
Rated PG-13.
Directed by Michael Hoffman. With Kevin Kline, Stanley Tucci, Michelle Pfeiffer, Rupert Everett, Calista Flockhart, Sophie Marceau, Sam Rockwell and Roger Rees.

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