Woody Allen’s consistency when he is in charge both in front of and behind the camera is superb. Only with Zelig did he not fully convince me that there was some artistic merit to his work. With A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy, I was expecting nothing special whatsoever. Perhaps a light comedy at least, but nothing more than that. What I wasn’t expecting was a truly solid Allen film, and it’s a great, albeit extremely forgotten gem of his filmography. His first-time collaboration with Mia Farrow sees her hit with a Razzie nomination, but I feel critics of the time were far too harsh on this underappreciated 80s Allen piece.
Boasting a fine cast that includes the aforementioned Allen, Farrow and also Mary Steenburgen, Julie Hagerty, José Ferrer and Tony Roberts, A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy is just that. It’s a midsummer night, and three couples in various stages of their relationship converge in Andrew’s (Allen) holiday home. His wife, Adrian (Steenburgen) is complacent, and the two are beginning to have trouble in the bedroom. As ever with an Allen movie, an old flame comes along, this time in the form of Ariel (Farrow). She brings her soon to be husband, Leopold (Ferrer) along with her, and the four spend the weekend together alongside Andrew’s best pal, Maxwell (Tony Roberts) and his new fling, Dulcy (Julie Hagerty).
Everyone within the film is so well cast, with the six leading characters blending with each other in tremendous fashion. Their personalities clash, and each of them suspects foul play with one or more of the other characters. Andrew is in love with Ariel, who doubts her relationship with Leopold. Leopold wants one more night of freedom with Dulcy, who accompanied Maxwell, who believes true love simply doesn’t exist. All of these characters begin to step on the toes of one another, and much of the tension comes from the problems that begin to bubble beneath the surface of their supposedly friendly relations.
By all means is it not the strongest written film, Allen has provided us with much better works in the straight-shooting comedy genre with the likes of Manhattan Murder Mystery, but A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy manages to elevate itself above the likes of Sleeper and most of his modern outputs. Given the intricacies of its subject matter, Allen’s direction makes it feel like a coy piece of entertainment, never dealing with the seriousness head on. Instead he opts to keep it light, flying around on one of his inventions, literally, a flying bicycle. Maybe a show off of the modern wonders of technology the early 1980s could provide, but it’s such a strange inclusion, but an important one too. It shows us that his work here isn’t to be taken all that seriously, and rightly so.
With its Bergman style of storytelling and performing seeping through even for those who are only acquainted with his works, A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy is a truly light hearted Allen piece that will be as forgettable as it is funny. There’s no denying the fun to be had within, but for those looking for more heavy-handed drama, they should certainly look elsewhere. It’s interesting to think that Allen’s farewell to comedic movies with Stardust Memories sees him follow up with his most straightforward and simplistically written comedy to date.