Much ado About Nothing

**** A–

Much ado about nothing ReviewDirected & Adapted for the Screen by Joss Whedon
Based off the play by William Shakespeare
Amy Acker: Beatrice
Alexis Denisof: Benedick
Clark Gregg: Leonato
Fran Kranz: Claudio
Jillian Morgese: Hero
Reed Diamond: Don Pedro
Spencer Treat Clark: Borachio
Nathan Fillion: Dogberry
Sean Maher: Don John
Riki Lindhome: Conrade
Ashley Johnson: Margaret
Tom Lenk: Verges
Music by Joss Whedon

Shakespeare has been forced into modern times before, but never have I seen it blend quite so fluidly. Joss Whedon has accomplished something here. The movie was filmed in only 12 days nearly exclusively at Whedon’s own home, which was designed by his wife, Kai Cole. However, it is immensely complex and well thought through. Though at times (mainly the beginning), the Shakespearian language can be a bit confusing, it lends so much to this film. The thing about Shakespeare is that people feel the need to make everything big and dramatic because they don’t fully understand the subtleties of Elizabethan English. Whedon, on the other hand, does. The film works so well because it doesn’t matter if the actors are speaking gibberish. He has assembled a fantastic assortment of relatively unknown actors who make everything that comes out of their mouth seem natural to a modern audience, almost as if you’d expect them to switch over at any moment.
Much Ado About Nothing begins when Don Pedro (Reed Diamond) and his two officers, Benedick (Alexis Denisof) and Claudio (Fran Kranz) visit Leonato (Clark Gregg), the governor of Messina, at his home after returning from a victorious campaign against Don John (Sean Maher), Don Pedro’s rebellious brother. While there, Claudio falls hopelessly in love with Leonato’s daughter, Hero (Jillian Morgese). Meanwhile, Don John, his officer, Borachio (Spencer Treat Clark), and Conrade (Riki Lindhome), Don John’s girlfriend, try to plot against our two young lovers for some reason that I never quite understood to be anything other than spite. Claudio and Hero are wrongfully the leads of Shakespeare’s play. However, Whedon realized correctly that the far more interesting relationship is that of Benedick and Beatrice (Amy Acker), Hero’s cousin and Leonato’s niece. For, both Benedick and Beatrice, who often engage in heated conversation, have decided that they will die single. However, beneath their hatred, is love. Secretly, each one loves the other but refuses to acknowledge it, until after Don Pedro successfully wins Hero for Claudio. At which point, Claudio, Leonato, Don Pedro, Hero, and Margaret (Ashley Johnson), a maid who is secretly in love with Borachio, combine forces to do the impossible: finally match Benedick and Beatrice. Their methods are amusing but the lovers’ reactions are priceless.

This movie had a good actor in every role, and yet the movie ended up living and dying by Acker and Denisof. They were wondrous, swerving from intensely funny moments (such as their respective eavesdropping scenes) to intensely dramatic scenes, beautifully. Also excellent though, was Clark Gregg, the only actor I knew by name coming into the film, who put on quite a show during the wedding scene. And then, there was the comedic relief of Dogberry (Nathan Fillion) and his deputy, Verges (Tom Lenk), two idiotic security officers Whedon dressed as if they were the Blues Brothers, and who could easily have their own spin off. The rest of the actors were very good in their roles. The villains were perhaps a bit too overtly villanious, though I rather liked Lindhome’s interpretation of Conrade (normally a male part that Whedon successfully adapted – even allowing them to have sex, without changing a word) acting (and looking) like Margot Tenenbaum.
Much of the credit however goes to Whedon. Not only did he adapt Shakespeare’s play flawlessly in his screenplay and direction, but he also co-edited (with Daniel S. Kaminsky) and scored the film with jazz music of his own creation. Much Ado About Nothing is one of Shakespeare’s “problem plays,” in that it serves from light-hearted fun to dark & dramatic. Directors have tried their hand at this play before (Most famously as Kenneth Branagh in 1993). I am happy to say that this is the better film, and the reason is simple: contrary to what many believe, every time you see Shakespeare, it has been slimmed down. His works are simply too long. It is in Whedon’s editing of the play that he triumphs. He knows which stories are interesting, and which are dispensable.

Also, his choice to film in black and white is a masterstroke, imbuing the film with three distinct feels. 1) The parties feel as though they belong in the jazz age. 2) The slapstick comedy feels genuine, as if coming from an old silent film. 3) The more dramatic sequences feel more like a noir, than the plotting ex-boyfriend we’ve become accustomed to in romantic comedies.
All in all, Joss Whedon has succeeded in making a charming interpretation of the Shakespeare classic that will be loved by nearly all its audience.

One Response to Much ado About Nothing

  1. Pingback: Much ado About Nothing | cinemashadow

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