Much Ado About Nothing,
directed by Joss Whedon
(Lionsgate, 2012)

Much Ado About Nothing, as conceived and directed by Joss Whedon, is extraordinary Shakespeare.

Purists may balk at the modern setting. Some folks might not like that the film's in black and white. And, after Kenneth Branagh's highly successful and still popular 1993 version, which is bright and bubbly and wholly traditional in its interpretation, some might question the need for his remake. Truly, I love Branagh's adaptation -- thinking of it now reminds me I'm overdue to watch it again -- but there's something about this new take that is subversively delightful and remarkably accessible.

Whedon in the special features explains how he and his friends gather often in his home to recite and enact Shakespeare. Y'know, for fun. These friends largely make up the cast and crew of Much Ado, and you can tell they know and love their Bard. Dialogue flows from their lips easily, casually, making perfect sense to viewers because the presentation is so artfully handled. There's no language barrier here; as Shakespeare intended, the dialogue is delivered as poetic interplay.

It's unclear if the movie was filmed in black and white more for artistic reasons or simple frugality, but it works; the sharp grays of the film put the audience in another time -- albeit not so far back as Shakespeare intended. The semi-contemporary setting of this Much Ado works in a manner other modern adaptations have not -- in large part because of the easy flow of language.

This low-budget film was shot in 12 days at Whedon's home in southern California. The cast is sterling -- and markedly familiar to anyone who's dipped a toe in the Whedonverse before, be it TV outings such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Dollhouse and Firefly or big-screen adventures such as The Avengers.

Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker lead the pack as Benedick and Beatrice, sharp-tongued wags whose mutual disdain conceals a deep, rich love. The secondary and more straightforward love affair is between Claudio (Fran Kranz), confidante of Don Pedro (Reed Diamond), and Hero (Jillian Morgese), daughter of Leonato (Clark Gregg), until their romance is torn asunder by the machinations of Pedro's brother, the conniving Don John (Sean Maher).

A special treat is every on-screen appearance of the bumbling officers of the law, Dogberry (Nathan Fillion) and Verges (Tom Lenk), who lack wit but still manage to ferret out the crime.

There's no great mystery here, and the confusion is quickly and relatively easily sorted out. It's a frothy play, and Whedon has transformed it into a jazzy, light-hearted movie that reminds us why Shakespeare is so awesome in the first place.

review by
Tom Knapp

23 November 2013

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