NOT Annie Hall, not Love and Death, but certainly not to be sneezed at, A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy sparkles amid the plethora of mediocre summer films. Although not destined to be a classic. Woody Allen's latest proffers gentle comedy, a light entertainment for a summer night.
With elements of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream and Bergman's Smiles of a Summer Night set to Mendelssohn and against a backdrop of nature photography, this lush film marks a partial return to Allen's earlier style. Working again in comedy, the veteran filmmaker has abandoned the subtlety of his more recent creations, but if the majority of the humor is broad, it is also notably less bitter than in his earlier movies. The impotent, unattractive hero and his bevy of shallow beauties are gone.
Set roughly around the turn of the century. Sex Comedy recounts a weekend hosted by Allen and his wife in a rural vacation house. Playing a Wall Street broker and weekend inventor, Allen greets his guests, and the complications begin as he recognizes a lost love. She is engaged, one member of one of the two couples who have come to visit. A "spirit lamp," with an embarrassing knack for revealing clandestine affairs, and copious quantities of wine contribute to the mixing and matching of the lovers, all or whom end contentedly mated by the film's conclusion.
Romantic confusion provides the basis for much of the humor here, as everyone races around in a sexual frenzy or sits paralyzed by anxiety and fears of inadequacy. Character quirks, brought out by the mismatching of Jone Ferrar and Mia Farrow, who play a prompous professor and a flirtatious free-thinker, respectively, offer occasional giggles. Less obvious jokes are found in Golden Willis' whimsical camera work as he bobs and sways to portray the view from Allen's homemade flying bicycle.
In keeping with the simplicity of the film's humor, Allen has none of these characters develop any signs of full-fledged humanity. The flat roles allow several characters to be the butt of jokes, but one wonders whether characterization is a necessary sacrifice to comedy. Perhaps it is, since Jose Ferrar gets to play a totally unbelievable, but very funny intellectual snob. He smirks; the camera closes in, and he almost purrs his line: "I did not create the cosmos, I merely explain them."
The caricature, simultaneously obvious and humorous, has never had a major role in Allen's films. Self-deprecatory references to his own Brooklyn Jewish background and jabs at rich WASPs have always been in Allen's repertoire. But a living, breathing one-liner presented as a major character seems a new creation; even Annie Hall was more real.
Unfortunately, the humor in this sort of acting can be marred by just one actress in the small cast. Mia Farrow is beautiful but displays little capacity for the tongue-in-cheek delivery that keeps this script rolling. Her scenes drag, although the rest of the cast provides sparkle in Sex Comedy.
A noticeable absence of bitterness separates this movie from Woody Allen's other comedies. Nobody, least of all Allen, leaves the film without love. Ferrar's obnoxious snob achieves redemption through lust, while a flirtatious couple decide the time is right to settle down. Allen talks about the dreams of his youth and decides that to realize these dreams does not guarantee fulfillment; he and his wife reunite.
A TRIFLE MORALISTIC, perhaps. More mature, too Gone is the bitter chase after the brainless goddess. He's gotten her and discovered that he would rather have his wife. Perhaps this change has taken with it the side-splitting humor of Sleeper or Bananas. Not to be misleading; this film is not unfunny. If it were not "the new Woody Allen" it would undoubtedly receive uniformly more positive reviews than it has. Sex Comedy provides at least a half dozen good chuckles and a continuous grin. At the beginning of a new phase. Woody Allen is learning to be both funny and warm. This film lacks polish, but a new trend displays potential.