It's such a to-do about nothing, but, at long last, Woody Allen gets his on-screen sex life sorted out in "A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy."
Hollywood's most satyric hero is haunted, however, by "Annie Hall" in this lyrical period farce that can't quite locate itself in time.
Under Allen's direction, Mia Farrow is a Diane Keaton clone, a hand-me-down "Annie" in 1906 upstate New York. Her hair's all crinkled and her baffled, vague delivery convinces us she's but a fair-haired imitation of his favorite waif. Farrow plays Ariel, an Edwardian free spirit, in a Victorian country home painted taupe by, say, a modern-day San Franciscan.
Ariel, with her pompous fiance Leopold (Jose Ferrer), spends a weekend in the country with Andrew (Allen), his newly frigid wife Adrian (Mary Steenburgen), his friend Maxwell (Tony Roberts) and Maxwell's sensuous doxy Dulcy (Julie Hagerty). As Shakespeare would have liked it, the six of them -- egged on by erotic sprites -- lose themselves in sylvan trysting, musical coupling and coming undone.
It's not Allen's best film, but fans of the Woodman should not resist. Whether it's the future of "Sleeper" or the turn-of-the- century of "Sex Comedy," Allen plays the same character -- always bewildered, always sex-obsessed, always under-consummated.
In "Sex Comedy" he's a frustrated stockbroker and part-time inventor who longs to regain a missed chance with Ariel, now also sought by Maxwell, who has fallen for her at first sight. (Not to be outdone by Allen, Roberts also continues to play his basic bachelor character from films past. Allen then hero-worships him and the two actors enjoy an unchanged camaraderie and no growth.)
That makes Jose Ferrer's performance even more welcome. He has no ties to Allenisms. He's a splash of cold water as a crusty professor, set to marry Ariel, but also drawn by the physicality of nurse Dulcy, who, in her down time, is teaching Adrian how to satisfy husband Andrew. The mores are not those of the time, but undoubtedly they aren't supposed to be. It's Allen the anarchist as screenwriter. If you don't mind that, there are a few guffaws and some moments that glimmer.
The film, not shot in black-and-white, is more mellow than most of Allen's work. The pastoral Impressionistic photography by Gordon Willis suffuses it with summer idyll. Perhaps it's a transitional film for the filmmaker -- a second film shot at the same time and also starring Farrow, and a third promised to Orion Pictures, which produced this film, may tell.
Meanwhile, "Sex Comedy" is a labor of love in which all is not lost. A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S SEX COMEDY -- At seven area theaters