A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S SEX COMEDY was Woody Allen’s whimsy for 1982. He wrote it in two weeks, then directed at location on the grounds of the 400-acre Rockefeller Estate, near Pocantico Hills, a rural hamlet about an hour from Manhattan.
Summer of 1906. In the upstate New York countryside, oddball inventor ‘Andrew Hobbs’ (Allen) and his wife ‘Adrian’ (Mary Steenburgen) host a weekend party retreat for two other couples. Andrew’s best friend, casually promiscuous physician ‘Maxwell Jordan’ (Tony Roberts) brings eager-for-amour nurse ‘Dulcy Ford’ (Julie Hagerty), while esteemed high-brow philosopher & professor ‘Leopold Sturges’ (Jose Ferrer) brings his considerably younger fiancee ‘Ariel Weymouth’ (Mia Farrow). The intellects, attitudes, emotions and sex drives of the hapless humans are no match for intoxicating natural surroundings that mystically conspire to gang up on their petty pretensions.
Often cited as a riff on Ingmar Bergman’s 1955 comedy Smiles Of A Summer Night, with some nods to Shakespeare, Chekhov and Jean Renoir, the 88 minutes are an amusing trifle, with anachronistic dialogue quite recognizable as ‘Woody Allen material’. It’s not laugh aloud fare, more smile & chuckle time. Even for an Allen movie this one seems extra-talkative, more so given that he directs at a remove, having a good number of lengthy jabbering exchanges shot too physically distanced from the people. This observer approach undercuts involvement by forcing focus mainly on the clever stream of words: that then paradoxically ends up dulling the impact of the writing. The photography itself, by Gordon Willis, is pleasing, getting a good sense of the summer atmosphere, bucolic surroundings and especially the lazy late afternoon and early evening hours.
Allen takes a break from being the main focus to just being part of an ensemble, with good work all round, though longtime co-star Tony Roberts is not as engaging as usual (his character also less fun than the rest). For the first time, Woody, 36, cast Farrow, also 36, who he’d been dating for two years. Their 12-year relationship then saw her appear in 12 more of his films until they split in 1992. Ironically, the last collaboration Husbands And Wives, had their characters splitting up over an affair.
Ferrer is full-steam ahead as the pompous prof. At 69 here, he hadn’t had a role worthy of his talents for years, and makes the most of it. Steenburgen and Hagerty, fresh from, respectively, Melvin and Howard and Airplane!, get some nice moments. The soundtrack consists of lively classical selections from Felix Mendelssohn.
Reviews were mild, and boxoffice was minimal, 64th place for the year, making $9,077,000.