Much Ado About Nothing Reviews
Shakespeare's romcom plot 1.0 is a bit...tame? for modern day. A rather huge deal is made over Hero's virginity, so much that when she is suspected of infidelity on top of fornication, Claudio, her betrothed, could enact such vitriolic public reprobation, her family could pretend she died at such horrific slander, and an otherwise gentle noblewoman would defend her cousin's honor by decreeing the slanderer's murder. Despite the dated material, Whedon adds some valiant updated touches: changing Conrade to a woman to add movement and intrigue to the scene with Sean Maher's icy and conniving Don Jon, hinting at Beatrice and Benedick's clandestine no-strings trysts and subsequent rancor because she presumably wants more and he's a confirmed bachelor, having Benedick deliver his Act II Scene 3 monologue while working out.
Whedon alumni Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof take on [their first] leading roles [in the Whedonverse] as attracting opposites Beatrice and Benedick. The pair rattle off Venusian versus Martian barbs, pratfall like seasoned Vaudevillians, and gradually generate palpable and ardent chemistry in the climactic scene of Beatrice commanding Benedick to murder Claudio as proof of his devotion.
The supporting cast is all charming and fun, especially sweet-faced Fran Kranz as the lovestruck Claudio. Having only seen Acker in supporting broad comedy or restrained drama roles on "HIMYM" and "Dollhouse," Denisof as the hair-helmeted ponce, Sandy Rivers, on "HIMYM," and Kranz as the exuberantly nerdy Topher on "Dollhouse" and stoner trope in "Cabin In the Woods," I'm really quite impressed with the acting of these three.
The iambic rhythms of Elizabethan speech did seem a mouthful for most of the cast at first, but it eventually ironed itself out, or I got over it. I'm always leery of contemporary Shakespearean adaptations that rely too much on physical humor and meaningful looks to clue the audience into the arcane dialect, but there was only a minimum of that, and what minimum there was, was organically funny.
I shouldn't feel the need to say this, but Tony Stark isn't in this movie. That is to say, many audiences who are going to see "Much Ado About Nothing" on the Whedon name alone, may find themselves bored out of their skulls rather quickly. So know what you're getting into. Filmed in Whedon's own home, long stretches of "Much Ado About Nothing" come off as something reminiscent of a college film production, with an initial hour that's tediousness is unmatched by any film this year. This is pretty much all due to Whedon's direction; or lack thereof. He doesn't really bring much to the table here. There are a few well crafted/aesthetically interesting scenes, which show off his directorial skills, and he injects a jazzy soundtrack which is sure to be overlooked, but essentially this is a William Shakespeare stage play. In fact, this adaptation is so stripped down , that the lack of evocative mise en scene makes everything seems distractingly like nothing more than a bunch of actors spewing off lines of Elizabethan dialogue. Which I guess is a feat unto itself, but if that's all you got, it's simply not interesting enough to watch for 2 hours. But worse than that, his version suffers from the one thing every film director ballsy enough to adapt Shakespeare dreads, which is not being able to transfer the story onto the screen in a manner where the dialogue seems overwhelmingly comprehensible. With this movie, Whedon may be trying to step out of some kind of box given his reemergence of fame. But if co-writing "The Cabin in the Woods" was a giant leap forward, then "Much Ado About Nothing" is a dull leap back. Also, I can't be the only one who wants him back inside the confines of the Marvel box Disney so graciously built for him.
The acting, which should drive a Shakespearian adaptation, mostly falls flat here. I can't put into words how much Clark Gregg irritates me as an actor. I think it has a lot to do with that stupid Julia Louis-Dreyfus show he was on. And Amy Acker, who plays the role of Beatrice, does it with such a quirkiness that seems to drown audiences the same way an alligator would its prey. She never seems like anything more than an annoying thespian while on screen, overdramatizing every line that comes across her lips. Yes, I understand that Whedon has essentially made the role of Beatrice into a slapstick one, but what Acker's performance turns into is something of a bad SNL sketch. And she is no Kristen Wiig! As for Alexis Denisof (who if you close your eyes sounds exactly like John Michael Higgins) he is the only shining light of the entire film. So it's a good thing that he is playing the lead character, Benedick, as Denisof is absolutely the only reason to watch this movie.
Side Note: In this day and age I don't believe that a director can get away with a Shakespearian adaptation, without going the stylized, big budget route (a la "Romeo + Juliet" or "Coriolanus"). Hence, this Whedon venture is sure to be lost in the shuffle this summer, as its simplicity is partially the reason why it all comes off as fairly boring. By the way, I realize that there are still quite enjoyable Keira Knightley, large gown, pouty Brit, period piece films which come out every year, but a Shakespeare adaptation is another story entirely.
Final Thought: Whedon's "Much Ado About Nothing" is the type of film that would be playing in the background during a pretentious hipster New York (or New York themed) party. So, my only advice if you've read this far and are still planning on buying a ticket to see this, would be to not go into "Much Ado About Nothing" cold. That is to say, if you aren't familiar with the original text or have not taken a class where an instructor has spent countless hours explaining to you why this dialogue is so funny, then you might be one of the first in your screening to mentally check out. Oh, and I only pray that "Much Ado About Nothing" isn't your first go around with Shakespeare, because this is an adaptation which is assuredly far too Honors English Lit. to capture the imagination of any novice.
Written by Markus Robinson, Edited by Nicole I. Ashland
Follow me on Twitter @moviesmarkus
While probably not the best version of "Much Ado About Nothing," Joss Whedon still mostly manages to overcome the typical awkwardness of tranposing Shakespeare to the modern day to deliver an entertaining adaptation that hits the right notes, both high and low. All of which is aided by Whedon displaying a hitherto unknown visual flair while employing physical comedy to good effect. Plus, there is Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker, already previously adept at supernatural tragedy elsewhere, proving they can also handle romantic comedy together while nobody does clueless quite as well as Nathan Fillion.
Joss Whedon's motivations for this new version are somewhat murkier. Shot in 12 days, mostly at his lovely house, this modern day adaptation has some lovely performances, clever new interpretations, and seductive cinematography, but it felt like an aesthetic experiment coupled with having a barn and shooting a movie with one's friends. It's the lark of someone who came off a huge blockbuster (THE AVENGERS) and wanted to make a simple, heartfelt movie as a palette cleanser of sorts. It shows. There's no burning desire for this movie to exist, no deep yearning or passion here. It's pleasant, and the actors are clearly invested and having a great time.
Clark Gregg and Nathan Fillion in particular bring a loose sense of fun to their performances, and Amy Acker as Beatrice is simply lovely. She has warmth combined with a bit of slapstick chops, and she's definitely one to watch. There's also eye candy for days with this utterly sexy, gorgeous cast. No matter your sexual orientation, there's sexiness oozing from any part of the frame, thanks to Reed Diamond, Sean Maher, Riki Lindhome, Ashley Johnson, Joshua Zar, and on and on. The very talented Tom Lenk plays Fillion's right hand man, and brings a humorous bewilderment to the party.
Technically, this very low budget film benefits from cinematographer Jay Hunter's black and white use of the EPIC Red camera. Having cut his teeth on reality television, his camera work is alive and yet there are many occasions where he brings beautiful compositions to the screen. Rest of the tech credits are modest, coming off like a low budget indie wherein the crew used what was at hand to accomplish their goals.
I don't want to sound harsh about this film, because the language is lovely and there's a breezy spirit to the whole thing. It simply pales in comparison to Branagh's memorable achievement. When I go to a film, I want to see the filmmaker's desperate need to tell a story and not see them go through the motions in order to clear their head. In a nutshell, Branagh celebrated ravenous love, while Whedon celebrates simple sweetness. I guess it all depends on your hunger needs.