Film Review – A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy

Woody Allen’s “A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy” begins with a simple setup.  Andrew, an amateur inventor (played by Allen), is preoccupied with the intimacy problems he’s experiencing with his wife (Mary Steenburgen).  He invites two friends to his home in the country for the weekend: Leopold, a stodgy old college professor (Jose Ferrer) and the dentist Maxwell (Tony Roberts), a notorious lothario. They each bring their own dates for the weekend and so the fireworks begin when all three couples find themselves in seclusion, tucked away from the world with only themselves for entertainment. There’s much more to this plot than the setup but why ruin it? Needless to say, the point of any sex comedy is not who will get together at the end of the film or even why, but how.

Even a casual fan of Allen’s will understand his approach to the material immediately. Allen loves to write dialogue devoted to anxiety, depression and that quirky little thing we call love. He rarely shows us the big events that propel his plots forward, preferring instead to give us the conversations that culminate afterwards. This approach has proved remarkably adaptable to the different stories Allen likes to tell.  It has imbued his comedies with a fantastic combination of wry wit and charm and given his drama’s an avant-garde and daring edge. Yet, the same qualities that elevate the best of Allen’s work have conspired against him here. The approach makes “A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy” feel disappointingly inert. It embodies the cliche, “all talk, no action.”

And it’s really too bad, because at it’s best, the “sex comedy” is a wonderful thing to behold. The classics of the genre (quite unlike the crass sex comedies of today) are never really about sex. They’re joyous celebrations of life and love, all good-natured fun and flirtation. Allen’s influence here is obvious, aside from the Shakespeare classic that the film none too subtly borrows it’s title from. The stamp of Ingmar Bergman’s too little seen 1955 film “Smiles of a Summer Night” is most evident but Allen never really utilizes the elements that make that particular film so special. It’s unfortunate that there’s more sex and comedy in the title then in the film itself.

Which isn’t to say that the film is a waste of time. There’s plenty to entertain a casual viewer. A few of the set pieces (I use that word loosely; this is a Woody Allen film, after all) are just the right touch of winsome and endearing. The dialogue is typical Woody Allen; naturalistic and insightful on the subject of relationships. There’s an interesting tug of war at the heart of the film between the professor and his no-nonsense view of the cosmos and the inventor’s belief in a world beyond this one that never becomes overbearing, though the ending feels like a stretch, even if it does stay true to the spirit of the genre.  All of the elements were in place for a classic Woody Allen movie, if only he had added the sizzle the material deserved.