*. Not just hip but hipster Shakespeare. I really feel like I shouldn’t have liked this, but while it was certainly uneven I enjoyed it.
*. Athens is now Hollywood and Hermia is a movie star, Theseus a big-shot producer, Helena a screenwriter, Lysander a photographer, Demetrius an agent, the mechanicals a bunch of film students, Puck a pothead surfer dude and Oberon . . . well, I’m not sure what Oberon is exactly. Some kind of vaguely benevolent drug lord?
*. It’s all very gimmicky and clever, to the point where the gimmicks can become a distraction. You have the feeling Shakespeare is being put in a blender. Some of the lines appear as text messages. The Pyramus and Thisbe play is done as a Star Wars homage, with the lion appearing as Chewbacca. Lines from other plays are used as gag lines. When Bottom is looking for the rehearsal studio he accidentally enters the wrong door. “2B?” he asks. “Not 2B,” is the reply. In Theseus’s screening room a dog is sitting in his chair and he has to tell it “Out, damned Spot.” Groan.
*. These are all, however, relatively minor things. Window dressing. More significant is having Bottom being given not the usual donkey head but instead a pair of buttocks. He literally has an ass face. Now this is startling, and I think for a lot of people will be somewhat off-putting. Personally, I thought it went with the spirit of the rest of the film, which is the best I can say for it and so I’ll leave it at that.
*. Another change made by director Casey Wilder Mott is to add a flashback where we see Demetrius finding the arrow fired by Cupid, which is what initially turns him away from Helena to Hermia. Which helps to sweeten his character up a bit. Also endearing is making Peter Quince a woman (Charity Wakefield) who has a bit of a thing for Bottom (Fran Kranz). Again, this is sweet.
*. Some people found this all too much, but I thought it was fun. The only problem I have with doing Shakespeare like this, especially with the very abrupt, rapid editing, is that it mangles any sense of sustained rhythm or progressive thought in the language. I think the idea is to make it sound more realistic, but I always feel such efforts make the play seem even more unnatural. This isn’t “dialogue” as a contemporary screenplay understands it, and treating it that way does violence to it. As it is, Saul Williams as Oberon seems the only one capable of speaking his lines with any conviction.
*. You could compare it to other contemporary American riffs on Shakespeare. Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet is the usual name to be brought up, though I thought Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing seemed a better fit for the millennial vibe. But I think the film I was most reminded of was Troma’s Tromeo and Juliet (1996) for its spirit of anarchic farce and mayhem.
*. It is not great Shakespeare, but overall I thought it had enough wit to keep its head above water. Williams, Lily Rabe, and Rachael Leigh Cook are all pretty good. The presentation is too frantic for me, but then I never really got with the twenty-first century.