Two new lovers and two old enemies come together at the home of the uber rich Leonato; a visit from his old friend Don Pedro, criminal brother Don John and cohorts in tow, causes romance, mayhem, and excessive drinking.
Joss Whedon, 2012
So the last few days in my world have been much ado about Joss Whedon and Shakespeare coming together on the, ahem, silver screen. I’ve been bouncing around like a three-year-old at Christmas with the anticipation of getting to see Joss’s modern-day black-and-white adaptation of the comedy, with some of his favourite actors forming The Whedonverse Repertory Company for the film. As far as I know, it is word-for-word page to screen, with very few cuts and only a very few word changes. I am a hardcore devotee of Joss Whedon’s work; I’ve seen almost everything he’s done, including tracking down some Roseanne episodes he worked on, so I am not coming to this unbiased.
If you haven’t seen or read Much Ado About Nothing before, it’s the story of wealthy Leonato (Clark Gregg) and his daughter, Hero (Jillian Morgese), and niece, Beatrice (Amy Acker). They’re visited by old friend and war hero Don Pedro (Reed Diamond), who brings along his soldiers and cohorts Benedick (Alexis Denisof), an old acquaintance of Beatrice’s with whom he exchanges some wonderfully biting flirtations, and the romantic Claudio (Fran Kranz). He also has his criminal brother Don Pedro (Sean Maher) and his henchman along with him, who tries his best to throw a spanner in the works as Claudio and Hero fall in love, while the good guys try to hook up Benedick and Beatrice and everyone uses Hero’s maid Margaret (Ashley Johnson). There’s a Kenneth Branagh adaptation from 1993 that you can see if you’re interested in a more traditional take on the tale; it’s a great movie as well.
For anyone not in the know, this film was shot over 12 days at Joss’s home in Santa Monica. It is a cheaply produced labour of love, and the love is felt through every frame of this film. It has a wonderfully light touch; this movie feels like old friends coming together, and it sparkles with the energy of their mutual interest and affection. It’s shot prettily, making full use of the location (and damn, do I ever want to live in his house). Most of all, the cast brings it to life brilliantly. Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker are fabulous as the grumpy Benedick and razor sharp Beatrice, and their old chemistry is in abundance here. Alexis in particular has some hilarious scenes, made even better by the reactions of the actors around him, while Amy gets to handle the heavy lifting in some wonderful moments where I found myself holding my breath. Nathan Fillion is perfect as the bumbling lawman (private security in this film, I believe) Dogberry, ably supported in his buffoonery by Tom Lenk hamming it up. Fran Kranz and Sean Maher are oh so pretty, and Maher seems to relish the villainy of his role. I enjoyed Reed Diamond and Clark Gregg in their roles as well. The music is lovely and jazzy, working with the quickfire dialogue and black & white cinematography to evoke the early talkies, His Girl Friday and The Philadelphia Story appear to be the influences here. There’s plenty of comedy, both physical and verbal, to amuse even the hardest of hearts and the least Shakespeare-literate – it evoked more than a few laughs from myself and my friends. The party scenes are extravagant and gorgeous, and the alcohol is flowing throughout the film (no-one seems to get hungover because they NEVER STOP DRINKING. At a party? Cocktails! Morning after? Shots! Just got dumped? Hip flask! Happy ending? Wine for everyone! MORE ALCOHOL!)
In my view, the only thing the film suffers from is the modern-day setting with the old-fashioned story. In a lot of ways, the rich high society of the movie is a perfect setting for the kind of sweet talk and treachery that comes with the story, but on occasion it becomes extreme to the point where suspension of disbelief is impossible: substituting a cousin for a daughter as a bride, for instance, or Leonato’s “DIE, SLUT!” reaction to finding out about his daughter’s alleged transgressions. Also, why would you bring a group of criminals to someone’s house for a week and take pictures? You could almost explain away the melodramatic reactions to certain plot twists as being the mad imagination of the idle rich, but certain ideas just don’t hold water in our day and age. While I greatly enjoyed Fillion’s scenes, moving the action away from the house location was also a fumble – it’s jarring, and it takes you away from the action. The physical comedy there is inspired, but it distracts from the lovely Dogberry wordplay that I had to work to hear.
Fun cameos: Uberfans, keep your eyes open for David Fury, Maurissa Tancharoen, and Jed and Zack Whedon
Much Ado About Nothing on IMDb