MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING
2013, PG-13, 107 mins.
2013, PG-13, 107 mins.
Alexis Denisof as Benedick / Amy Acker as Beatrice / Nathan Fillion as Dogberry / Ashley Johnson as Margaret / Sean Maher as Don John / Spencer Treat Clark as Borachio / Clark Gregg as Leonato / Fran Kranz as Claudio / Tom Lenk as Verges / Emma Bates as Ursula / Reed Diamond as Don Pedro
Written and directed by Joss Whedon / Based on the play by William Shakespeare
Adapting a play by Shakespeare just might be one of the bolder artistic choices that writer/director Joss Whedon could have possibly done in his post-AVENGERS career.
intrinsically fascinating is his approach: Film it all in lush black and
white, in a modern day setting, over the course of less than two weeks,
and inside his very own Santa Monica home.
Ultimately, the more austere scholars of the Bard’s work will
probably groan at the prospect of yet another film appropriation of one of
his most cherished works being done in an anachronistic haze, but one of
the more sublime pleasures of Whedon’s MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING is its
relative looseness of approach. The
film has a carefree, breezy, and spontaneous aura about it while
maintaining faithfulness to the original prose.
All of this lends itself well to the underlining humor of
Shakespeare’s most inviting and well-known comedies.
me, I’ve always been an appreciator of Kenneth Branagh’s more literal
1993 adaptation of MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, which still stands the test of
time even twenty years later. I think that Whedon wisely does not engage in any vain
attempt at one-upping that cherished film, but instead tries to do
something altogether unique and fresh on his own.
I think that the decision to film this version in black and white
is to evoke the classic Hollywood screwball farces of yesteryear, and the
visual look here informs and compliments the inherent mischievous humor of
Shakespeare’s play. Better
yet is the notion is that this film allows Whedon to come outside of the
Hollywood blockbuster shell that he has placed himself within as of late:
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING proves that he can make small, low budget, low key,
and character and – yes – dialogue driven works.
overall plot of this film iteration is largely unchanged from the original
text; granted, obvious scenes have been excised for the necessity of
pacing and running time. For
those completely unfamiliar with the play, MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING is a
romantic comedy that ostensibly focuses on two sets of couples.
There is Beatrice (the lovely and naturally beautiful Amy Acker)
and Benedick (Alexis Denisof), who outwardly display ample antagonism
towards each other, but inwardly share a deep seeded love that is only
brought to the forefront via their friends.
The other couple is Claudio (Fran Kranz) and Hero (Jillian Morgese),
both of whom seem to be headed towards marital bliss.
Unfortunately for them, the nefarious Don John (Sean Maher) makes
his presence felt and interferes with their passion, leaving Claudio
abandoning Hero on their wedding day. Thankfully for all, a bumbling constable named Dogberry
(Nathan Fillion) tries to restore order and uncover the true nature of Don
– and aside from Jay Hunter’s lush black and white cinematography –
Whedon wisely abandons any attempts at overly stylizing his film, which
could have easily become a needless distraction.
Instead, he allows the sprightly and very game performers and
Shakespeare’s iconic language rule the day.
I think that the fundamental key to adapting any Shakespeare play
to the silver screen lies with a director’s ability to make his words
feel accessible and comprehensible, and to that extent Whedon has
succeeded. More importantly,
though, Whedon also captures the play's sense of joyous and eager
enthusiasm. Intriguingly, he
manages to find a way to navigate through the story’s two distinct
plotlines with a casual and free-flowing approach that rarely feels
haphazardly thrown together.
performances here are, of course, crucial to Whedon’s overall approach,
and when some of the actors come off more as novices with Shakespeare’s
words than others, they all manage to ebb and flow together as a rather
wonderful ensemble. Amy Acker
is easily the standout here, as she evokes an ethereal glow and sense of
awkward charm in Beatrice that makes her so inviting as a character.
Her scenes with Alexis Denisof have a spunky and sly allure and
both actors know how to harness the dialogue and make their verbal
sparring matches really shine. Perhaps
my favorite addiction to the cast is Nathon Fillion as the constable, who
perhaps gives the funniest performance in the film; he brings out his
character's slapstick physical hijinks without it coming off as
overbearingly obtrusive while, at the same time, making Dogberry an eager
minded and sincere figure that’s just out to right wrongs…even though
he awkwardly fumbles his way through it.
A little bit of Fillion goes an awful long, long way in this
can certainly see how some are a bit uncomfortable with Whedon’s choices
here. I myself had initial
reservations about the project going in; on paper, it seems more like an
experimental home movie by the director with his industry BFFs than a
worthwhile and significant entry in the Shakespearian film canon.
Then there is the rather large shadow of Branagh’s critically
lauded and revered 1993 incarnation, which certainly will sully the
expectations any appreciator of the film going into Whedon’s effort.
And, uh huh, this new MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING has mobile phones,
guns, and other contemporary trappings that might have many in the
audience modestly cry foul. If anything, wouldn’t the bolder choice of Whedon
have been to make a period specific adaptation on a tight
Alas, these nitpicks are ultimately much ado about…nothing. Whedon seems to not only have a fundamental understanding of the original source material, but also a keen knack for extrapolating both the subtle and broad comedy from the play, which is a tricky task for any filmmaker. Perhaps to his credit, Whedon displays great enthusiasm for the inherent material, which helps override any overt criticisms that his MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING is nothing more than a mild career detour/curiosity piece for him. Despite the overall and obvious modesty of the aesthetic approach here, this version of Shakespeare’s 16th Century romcom is a bona fide and fairly worthwhile addition to the long-standing genre of films based on his works.
of all, Whedon makes Shakespeare hip, fun, and inviting.
That’s no easy feat.