Much Ado About Nothing (2012) / Drama-Comedy
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for some sexuality and brief drug use
Running time: 109 min.
Cast: Alexis Denisof, Amy Acker, Clark Gregg, Reed Diamond, Fran Kranz, Jillian Morgese, Spencer Treat Clark, Riki Lindhome, Nathan Fillion, Sean Maher
Director: Joss Whedon
Screenplay: Joss Whedon (adapted from the play by William Shakespeare)
Review published July 5, 2013
The story behind the making of Much Ado About Nothing is perhaps a more interesting story than actually watching the Joss Whedon (The Avengers, Serenity) directed and adapted film, edited from the well-known play by William Shakespeare. The shoot only took 12 days, and was entirely set in Joss Whedon's lavish Los Angeles abode, utilizing mostly some of his actor friends and creative colleagues.
The Shakespeare play itself is, in its simplest interpretation, surrounding the would-be union of two sets of lovers. The main couple is Benedick (Denisof, First Knight) and Beatrice (Acker, Catch Me If You Can), who are interested in one another, but will not admit to being so, especially to each other, to which they resort to snide retorts. The secondary pair are Claudio (Kranz, Rise: Blood Hunter) and Beatrice's cousin, Hero (Morgese), who are far more open and affectionate toward one another. While those in attendance contrive to get Benedick and Beatrice together, there are also those who choose to rend Claudio and Hero apart.
Jay Hunter (Paper Heart) shoots the film using sumptuous black-and-white cinematography, and the look of the film is perhaps its most appealing quality -- other than the fact that' it's shot inside of Whedon's home, it really doesn't look like it's made on the fast and cheap. However, it's definitely more of a side show than a main feature; you wouldn't want to come into this film with little-to-no knowledge of Shakespeare, as this would be a terrible introduction to one of his most well-loved plays.
The two most predominant factors for thoroughly enjoying this adaptation is, first, being an avid fan of "god among nerds" Joss Whedon, and, second, being an avid fan of the play itself. If you're in neither camp, this might be a bit of a tough slog, as without an interest in seeing Whedon and his Whedon-verse regulars do something radically different, or in seeing an interpretation done in a completely hip, modern setting, this will likely be a muddled and unsatisfying first exposure.
The interesting thing about Whedon's condensed interpretation is that, while "Much Ado About Nothing" is regarded as one of Shakespeare's best comedies, the main thrust here is to play it noir-ishly dark, with lightly comedic physical humor interspersed, often added by Whedon to flesh out the piece. I'd wager that a poll of exiting audience members unfamiliar with the original work would yield a much higher percentage of viewers who might regard what they've just seen as a drama with moments of comedy, rather than the ribald farce most who are familiar with the play know it to be.
As much as I would like to recommend Much Ado About Nothing, as Whedon gives it a heck of a valiant effort, I can't outright, unless you're just someone who is staunchly curious or predisposed to like anything consummately Whedon or Shakespeare. The actors aren't all well cast (I counted only about three I'd consider to be above average for their respective roles -- Acker as Beatrice, Fillion (Waitress, White Noise 2) in the supporting role of Dogberry - the only time the audience I viewed the film with laughed at anything in the film that came from actual dialogue, rather than the injected slapstick and actors occasionally comical facial expressions, came from Fillion's delivery - and British actor Paul Meston in the minuscule part of Friar Francis) The rest often appear as though they're reciting lines without any sense of meaning in the words they are saying, and when one of those happens to be the male romantic lead, that's one hell of a liability.
For a first exposure, you're really doing yourself a disservice to seeing this exquisite play performed in such an uneven manner. Otherwise you'll have to spot the film its amateurishness and fill in the blanks of passionate and nuanced delivery in your mind as you watch. When it's well done, it should be effortless for the audience, but Whedon's take is so out of its element, it forces the audience to labor to hold it up to where it should be.
If you're intimately familiar with the Shakespeare work, Much Ado About Nothing will sate a certain curiosity, mostly to see how the expansive centuries-old play is altered from its period in order to conform to a limited, modernized arena. Truth is, with its characters of royal Italian birth, calling each other "my lord" and "my liege" in the modern era is an ill fit, so, again, audiences to suspend inordinate amounts of disbelief in its time and place to try to make it work.
Joss Whedon's film is elegantly presented, nonetheless, and for that, those prone to just enjoy films for their aesthetic qualities might be most forgiving, not caring too much about the difficult dialogue and downplayed delivery. However, its appeal is certainly quite limited, so unless you're determinedly amped to see this film for reasons that will carry you through the roughest of patches, Much Ado About Nothing still proves that such things as impeccable talent and proper presentation count for a something when it comes to Shakespearean adaptations.
©2013 Vince Leo