By Dan Metcalf
Clipper Film Correspondent
Much Ado About Nothing (Lionsgate)
Rated PG-13 for some sexuality and brief drug use.
Starring Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Nathan Fillion, Clark Gregg, Reed Diamond, Fran Kranz, Sean Maher, Jillian Morgese, Spencer Treat Clark, Riki Lindhome, Ashley Johnson, Emma Bates, Tom Lenk, Nick Kocher, Brian McElhaney, Joshua Zar, Paul M. Meston, Romy Rosemont.
Written by William Shakespeare (screen adaptation by Joss Whedon).
Directed by Joss Whedon.
If you are a big fan of Bill Shakespeare, you probably know all about the pitfalls of trying to adapt his most treasured stage plays for the big screen. Sticking to the script may not be a problem for Bard purists, but the regular popcorn crowd is more likely to snooze off in such circumstances. On the other hand, watering down Shakespeare's most treasured dialogue to fit Hollywood's conventions can cause more than a little scoffing. Naturally, a studio might allow a gifted scribe and director the opportunity to adapt one of Shakespeare's classic plays for major release. One such man is none other than Joss Whedon, the man behind last's year's runaway box office smash, Marvel's The Avengers.
Wait...what? Whedon? Yeah, that guy. Whedon, whose latest success involves characters with super powers and grand special effects is the man behind the latest adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing, one of William Shakespeare's most beloved comedies about love, sex and gender. It might seem like an odd marriage between the king of science fiction/comic book/action movies and classic Shakespearean theater, but there is rhyme and reason for Whedon's dalliance with the Bard.
Alexis Denisof plays Benedick, companion to Don Pedro (Reed Diamond) and Claudio (Fran Kranz), who are house guests of local dignitary Leonato (Clark Gregg). Claudio is smitten with Leonato's daughter Hero (Jillian Morgese), while Benedick trades barbs with her cousin Beatrice (Amy Acker). Benedick and Beatrice apparently have a history with each other involving a sexual encounter. Both have a disdain for the opposite sex and the idea of marital bliss. As Claudio and Hero plan a wedding, Benedick's and Beatrice's circle of friends take on a challenge of bringing the devoted bachelor and spinster together through a playful deception.
Meanwhile, Claudio's vindictive half brother Don John schemes to ruin the wedding by implicating Hero as an unfaithful trollop. He stages a sexual encounter with Margaret (Ashley Johnson) pretending she is Hero as Claudio watches from below Hero's balcony. The next day, Claudio refuses to marry Hero, and shames he in front of the wedding party. That night, Don John's accomplices are caught by Dogberry's (Nathan Fillian) local lawmen, leading to another confrontation at yet another wedding scene.
Whedon's adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing is unique in its presentation. First, the film has a contemporary setting, complete with cars, cell phones business suits and other modern conveniences. Paired with the modern surroundings are Shakespeare's words, with little deviation to the original play. Such odd pairings might turn some people off, but once you accept the fact that Whedon is sticking to Shakespeare's play, you can enjoy the movie as you would any theatrical production. Another oddity is the production design, natural lighting and cinematography, shot in black and white in and around Whedon's home over a two week period in 2011.
While most might not be able to accept Whedon as a Shakespearean director, there is a little background to share. Before Whedon ruled the world as a Marvel mega hit guy, he paid his dues as a writer/director of a few cult TV hits, including Angel, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Dollhouse and of course, Firefly. He also helped pen a few hits, like episodes of Roseanne and the original Pixar Toy Story. Among his close friends (many of whom appear in Much Ado) are several lesser known actors you might have seen before, but can't name (Denisof and Acker, in particular). Many of those actors have been known to participate in Shakespeare readings held by Whedon – just for fun, on and off the sets of shows like Angel, Buffy, etc.
So, while Much Ado About Nothing might seem like a monumental indulgence from the guy who has the gravitas of delivering a mega hit like The Avengers, it's not a bad thing if you like Shakespeare as much as Whedon does.
Much Ado About Nothing is a movie for people (like Whedon) who love Shakespeare, and delight in the playwright's talent for telling great stories.