Review: Much Ado About Nothing – I will tell you my drift
Straight upfront, I don’t know much about Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing – so this is not going to be a pretentious review where I pretend to know what I’m talking about – consider it from an ignorant commoner’s perspective. For me, the 16th century poet/playwright represents uncomfortable high school literature classes where we had to take turns reading his perplexing prose aloud and then embarrassingly attempt to decipher its meaning. (And then there was my preferred method of reading pseudo Shakespearean speak between the pages of The Mighty Thor comic books.) Nevertheless, I was willing to give director Joss Whedon’s new film adaptation of the classic play a try for the simple reason that … well, it’s Joss Whedon.
I’m always willing to try new things and this wasn’t my first time sitting through a movie based on Shakespeare’s work, but the films without the literal dialogue are always much easier to digest (Akira Kurosawa’s “Ran” from 1985 [based on King Lear] is a favorite.) The words in Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing, though, are almost verbatim from the original play and it took me nearly a third of the film before I got into the groove of the language enough that I could slightly understand what was going on. So at risk of sounding like an idiot, this is what I think the plot of this film is about. (Feel free to correct me in the comments – or Shakeskewer me – if I’m wrong.)
Although the original language is the same, the story has been updated to modern times where I believe that Leonato (Clark Gregg, who you’ll recognize from The Avengers) is a politician of some sort and he lives in a fancy mansion (actually Whedon’s home) with his niece, Beatrice (Amy Acker), and his daughter, Hero (Jillian Morgese). At the beginning of the film he is visited by his friends Don Pedro (Reed Diamond) and Claudio (Fran Kranz), who is immediately smitten by the pretty Hero.
Benedick (Alexis Denisof) is part of a security detail (I think) and has a love/hate history with Leonato’s niece, Beatrice, so their mutual friends play a game to try and bring the two together. Meanwhile, for reasons that are still unclear to me, Don John (Sean Maher) and his girlfriend Conrade (Riki Lindhome) attempt to break-up the budding love between Claudio and Hero by misleading the suitor into thinking that the young girl has cheated on him.
All of the action in this movie appears to take place during an ongoing party over the course of a very long weekend. There may be more time that passes, but not that I could tell in this film; regardless, at Claudio & Hero’s impromptu wedding the young man coldheartedly confronts the girl about her cheating ways and causes her so much angst that everyone believes she dies at the altar (but it’s just a trick to coax out the culprits who smeared Hero’s reputation.)
The cops, headed by Dogberry (Nathan Fillion of Firefly), are then called in to investigate the matter and eventually Beatrice & Benedick fall in love, Claudio & Hero are reunited and Don John’s evil shenanigans are exposed. In between is where the aptly titled Much Ado About Nothing stuff comes in.
For me, the very humorous Dogberry scenes, by Whedon favorite Nathan Fillion, were the best parts of this film and what identified it as a comedy and saved the movie from being a serious yawner. I have to say, though, there were people, certainly Shakespeare fans, in the audience of the screening I attended who were laughing throughout this film at things that I obviously didn’t get. And good for them, that’s fine, I’m sure there were parts of Whedon’s Avengers film that I was totally digging which went straight over the heads of many of the Shakepeareophiles.
Whedon allegedly shot this movie at his house during a 12 day “vacation” during the production of The Avengers film. You gotta give the man credit for that kind of dedication and energy. He obviously loves this material and I have to admit that there is something in the rhythm of the language that is appealing, especially as delivered by the excellent cast in this film, who seemed to me to be completely at home with the verbiage; and if you are a Whedon fan you’ll get a kick out of seeing many familiar actors from his stable of players doing something completely different.
As an adult, I can appreciate Shakespeare a lot more than when I was in high school (when it was being jammed down my throat), and Whedon’s labor of love with Much Ado About Nothing certainly makes it more palatable, but it is still more labor intensive than I care for in my entertainment. This movie is also filmed in black & white, which will probably turn off many viewers as well.
It goes without saying that this film is most likely to appeal to those who love Shakespeare and to Whedon fans who have the patience to give something very different a try. To the lucky few who meet both of those criteria, I think you are going to absolutely love this movie. I applaud the filmmaker’s efforts, but it just didn’t “ado” much for me. Grade: 6/10
Photos © 2013 Bellwether Pictures
Tags: Alexis Denisof, Amy Acker, Clark Gregg, Fran Kranz, Jillian Morgese, Joss Whedon, Much Ado About Nothing, Nathan Fillion, Reed Diamond, Sean Maher, Shakespeare, The Avengers, William Shakespeare