Most (if not all) fans of the one known as Joss Whedon know that during the “Firefly/Angel/Buffy” years, he and his wife Kai Cole would host Shakespeare readings at their home on Sundays with the cast and crew (their only day off from shooting) and all would revel in each other’s portrayals of characters and interpretation of the lyrical writing of The Bard himself.
And finally, Whedon has taken that final step and that result is his take on a Shakespeare classic comedy, Much Ado About Nothing.
If you’re not familiar with the tale, I’ll give you the Crix Notes:
After a successful win in battle, Spanish prince Don Pedro and his men (Claudio and Benedick) arrive at Leonato’s (the governor of Messina) home for a month-long stay…in which Leonato’s niece (Beatrice) and the aforementioned perma-bachelor Benedick trade in sarcasm and barbs like kids do with Pokemon cards (or whatever the hell it is kids trade these days) while Don Pedro facilitates marriage between Leonato’s daughter (Hero) and the young Claudio. Did I mention that Don Pedro, Claudio and Leonato (out of boredom) decide to also hook up Beatrice and Benedick with trickery most hilarious? True story.
But of course, there is a wrench in the form of Don Pedro’s illegitimate brother, Don John (a.k.a. The Bastard) who decides this is the perfect time to get some revenge by trying several times to disturb the courtship and marriage of the young Claudio and his Hero.
And that’s where we sit now…so back to the review!
As nothing in a Shakespeare tale is EVER “black and white”, I loved how Whedon chose to film in that very style. In the VERY opposite style of Baz Luhrmann’s William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet (where it’s all bright colors and pop music-driven storytelling), Whedon’s black and white juxtaposition successfully mutes the scenery (filmed at Joss Whedon’s home, which is AMAZING), leaving the audience to pay attention to the words – which are sometimes easily lost or confusing to those not versed in the Shakespeare language.
Alexis Denisof (above) nearly runs away with the character of Benedick, and as well he should; Benedick is a charming, confirmed bachelor who’d rather eat ground glass than say he loves ANY woman, much less that of Beatrice. In all honesty, I really hope Denisof gets an Oscar nod as – and I NEVER thought I’d say this – he has replaced Kenneth Branagh as the best Benedick I’ve seen on both film AND stage.
Clark Gregg (Leonato) never disappoints and he hasn’t here either as the kind-hearted father to Hero and uncle to Beatrice – and just like when Coulson “died” in The Avengers, I shed a tear at his heartache of thinking he had a daughter who was no longer chaste.
I’ve only ever known Sean Maher (Don John) as the uber smart yet socially awkward Simon Tam (“Firefly”), so to see him play a perfect bastard was sexy as all hell…I love it when I see actors I’m not very familiar with take on a role that changes the way you look at them.
Fran Kranz (Claudio) is also a fairly new discovery for me, as I am just now starting in on “Dollhouse,” but I gotta say it’s evident this kid’s stage pedigree shows as he seemed to have a nice grasp of the language and I fell in love with Claudio; his heartbreak was my heartbreak and his happiness was my happiness.
But the one I was pleasantly surprised by was Nathan Fillion (Dogberry); he was so adorable and incredibly hilarious as the town constable who doesn’t quite know what some words mean but uses them any way. And paired alongside Tom Lenk (Verges) as his lovably goofy but well-meaning partner, these two were an absolute JOY every time they came on screen.
Amy Acker (Beatrice) and Jillian Morgese (Hero)
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of the women of this film.
While I appreciate Amy Acker (Beatrice) bringing a new interpretation of the mega-sarcastic-to-protect-her-heart, it sadly falls slightly flat and nearly disappears when trading barbs with Denisof’s Benedick. Taking into consideration that this film was shot in a mere 12 days, I think Acker did her best but I feel if she had more rehearsal time, she would’ve really made the role her own.
Another character I found interesting was that Joss Whedon decided to make Don John’s own sidekick, Conrade (traditionally a man) a woman, and he cast Garfunkel and Oates’ Riki Lindholme in the role…a little deadpan but I really dug the choice.
All in all, it’s a lovely film and even if you’re not familiar with Shakespeare, you’ll enjoy what Whedon’s done with it. It’s Shakespeare with a California twist and Shakespeare snobs will be happy to know that Whedon has not altered one single word.
Final word: See this film – it’ll be WELL worth your while.
The Frame Rate: 8 out of 10.
Much Ado About Nothing is in limited theaters right now.
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