Director: Joss Whedon
Writer: Joss Whedon (screenplay), William Shakespeare (play)
Stars: Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Clark Gregg, Nathan Fillion
Release date: June 21st, 2013
Distributors: Lionsgate, Roadside Attractions
Running time: 108 minutes
Best part: The dynamic cast.
Worst part: The awkward first five minutes.
“What’s the matter, smart ass? Don’t know any f#cking Shakespeare?”. Mark Wahlberg’s line from The Departed, to me at least, sums up William Shakespeare’s overwhelming effect on pop culture. The Bard, whether he’s infatuated with a sprightly, Gwyneth Paltrow-looking woman (Shakespeare in Love) or brashly labeled a fraud (Anonymous), is always depicted as a knowledgeable and enigmatic individual. In addition, big-budget renditions of his seminal works – including Ten Things I Hate About You, Throne of Blood, and Romeo + Juliet – amicably reach wide audiences. Along comes geek heartthrob Joss Whedon. Whedon, arguably Hollywood’s hardest working writer/director, offers up a loving tribute to history’s greatest poet. Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing depicts a funky, sexy, and witty insight into the Hollywood hills. Whedon’s rendition, receiving extraordinary exposure, is a unique and faithful ode to an ever-lasting hero.
His version, touching upon an engaging story and vital themes, is an insatiably strong adaptation. Sticking to the source material, Much Ado About Nothing defines Whedon as an all-knowing and gracious filmmaker. Describing the plot, despite overlaying valuable information, doesn’t ‘spoil’ the final product. With work this treasurable and refined, everyone should seek out Shakespeare’s material (in fact, why are you still reading this review? Go find it!). The narrative unfolds with the scornful yet vibrant Beatrice (Amy Acker) lamenting her cloying existence. Her cynical ideologies and actions – cheerfully matched by zany, confident, and desirable bachelor Benedick (Alexis Denisof) – almost push her to breaking point. Thanks to Leonato (Clark Gregg) and Don Petro(Reed Diamond)’s agreement, Hero (Jillian Morgese) and Claudio (Fran Kranz) will achieve marriage and eternal happiness. This event, marked by lavish celebrations and free-flowing alcohol, is marred by Claudio’s deceitful brother Don John (Sean Maher). Along the way, our courageous and optimistic characters come across masked well-wishers, snivelling evildoers, and luscious settings. Hot on the evildoers’ trails, Agents Dogberry (Nathan Fillion) and Verges (Tom Lenk), and their spritely associates, watch over proceedings. However, their good efforts are threatened by Don John’s helpers, Conrade (Riki Lindhome) and Borachio (Spencer Treat Clark). Over the course of a few days, allegiances, best-laid plans, and the idea of love itself will be greatly tested. In this I-Pod, smart phone, and gossip induced world, our heroes and villains will face off in the midst of kind greetings, parties, weddings, interrogations, and funerals. Despite the pace wavering with each abrupt transition and additional plot-strand, this adaptation develops a comforting and engaging tone. With characters, twists, and sexual awakenings seamlessly intertwining, Whedon subtly controls every necessary strand and titbit. His overwhelming affection for Shakespeare pours over his charming and hilarious adaptation.
Before I go on, I’ll admit my affection for Whedon and Shakespeare may potentially cloud my judgement. Having read and viewed their all-important works, its difficult not to proclaim Much Ado About Nothing as entertainment history’s greatest ‘collaboration’. Both critically-and-commercially-lauded artists – bringing heart, soul, and laughs to every creation – have crafted influential and popular efforts defining certain generations. In praising Whedon’s adaptation on its own merits, Much Ado About Nothing, as famed film production schedules go, is a jaw-dropping and clever achievement. Mashing the original material with a contemporary setting pays off. Whedon’s behind-the-scenes ingenuity boosts the small scale and quirky visuals. With a 12-day shooting schedule, Whedon took time off from working on The Avengers to work on this concept. With planning, production, and post production taking place in Whedon’s Santa Monica Mansion, his style and the narrative’s intimate nature go hand in hand. Passionate about Shakespeare’s comedic touches, Whedon’s writing style derives from the Bard’s seminal efforts. His adaptation highlights the most punctual and relevant aspects of Shakespeare’s work. Relaying Shakespeare’s every word, the opening few scenes are jarring. With kitsch direction applied to poetic material, viewers may, sadly, throw up their hands by the thirty-second mark. However, criticising the movie’s core would insult Shakespeare’s material. With each metaphor, anecdote, and soliloquy, I hurriedly connected to intricate details and overtones. Despite several plot-points, including feuds between royal ties and Claudio’s paranoia over Hero’s virginity, not connecting to the movie’s time period, certain strands relate to relevant themes. Despite the hurried marriages, articulate prose, and pontifications, Much Ado About Nothing places Whedon’s popularity in the spotlight. Like his previous efforts, multi-layered characters, deception, honour, and societal order rule the day. Obsessed with familial ties and small scale conflicts, Whedon deliberates on our media-obsessed world’s love of power, sex, love, loss, regret, inspiration, and fame. Featuring attractive heroes, scheming, black-haired villains and vicious conflicts, Much Ado About Nothing and The Avengers aren’t too dissimilar.
“Why, he is the Prince’s jester: a very dull fool; Only his gift is in devising impossible slanders.” (Beatrice (Amy Acker), Much Ado About Nothing).
Whedon’s unique pet project, born from a shared understanding of the source material, brings family and friends together. His mansion becomes a labyrinthine castle for conflicted characters to swiftly travel through. Emphasising each hallway and empty space, characters efficiently peer around corners, fall down stairs, and glance through wide windows. In addition, several camera tricks illustrate Whedon’s methodical conveyance of small details and symbols. Aiding the confronting material, the black-and-white cinematography also takes time getting used to. Emphasising each conflict and relationship’s rawness, this choice elevates Whedon’s succinct and powerful style. Keeping it in the family, Jed Whedon (brother) and Maurissa Tancharoen (sister in law) contribute with a hip, jazzy score. Firmly stamped into the enthralling narrative, their tunes elevate each intriguing set-piece. This anachronistic journey – featuring an entertaining masked ball, scintillating romantic moments, and a discomforting memorial sequence – is a wondrous miasma of fashion, fun, and fiery feuds. Like Shakespeare and Whedon’s previous efforts, the characters contain a knowing sense of humour. Understanding each debilitating situation’s gravity and urgency, these people appropriately speak the truth. Making for several hysterically awkward moments, these blunt yet alluring characters solidify this intriguing dramedy. Using dry wit, guile, vaudeville slapstick, and heart, Whedon touches up Shakespeare’s creations. Boosting each enigmatic characterisation, the movie’s dynamic ensemble conquers the cloying material. As Whedon’s ‘regulars’, the TV-centric cast convincingly delivers Shakespeare’s tongue-twisting dialogue. Standout performers Fillion, Gregg, Denisof, and Diamond become comedic geniuses in vital roles. Meanwhile, Acker brings gravitas and poignancy to her promiscuous and cynical character.
Combining two brilliant minds for one rendition, Much Ado About Nothing is a humorous, reflexive, and thrilling dramedy. Despite having stated my overwhelming affection, it’s still worth mentioning – Whedon is a cinematic genius! This movie, aptly accessing the play’s most intriguing elements, is certainly worth a look.