[FILM] Much Ado About Nothing

Happy New Year everyone! I’m still in recovery from the most booziest time of the year, but am well and truly back with the first of many reviews I cobbled together over Christmas. There’ll be more details of my shenanigans in this week’s Sunday Spew, but for now here’s something to tide me over.

Much Ado About Nothing - Poster

“Back in the day, if one fancied a lady and wanted to ever see her in the nip, one had to marry her.”

Joss Whedon in charge of presenting a big screen adaptation of my favourite Shakespearean comedy in a modern setting? Starring all of my favourite actors from Buffy, Angel and Firefly? Filmed in black and white and on a shoe-string, independent budget? Nobody pinch me, for this appears as a dream most divine.

You may have already guessed, considering the information above, that I would not be the most objective of reviewers for Whedon’s passion project. From a very young age I came to love many of Shakespeare’s works, even though in many cases throughout my early education the texts were unapologetically forced upon us. Thankfully I had a wonderful English teacher who managed to open many of our eyes to the wonder that could be found inherent in the language. I owe much to him. Much Ado About Nothing, which many herald to be the original of the romantic comedies as we know them, will always hold a special place in my heart.

...

Even in Shakespeare’s time they had bongs.

For those unfamiliar with the tale; Much Ado concentrates on the two very different love stories of two couples. To begin, we are introduced to the host with the most as Leonato (Clark Gregg), Governor of Messina, welcomes old friend Don Pedro (Reed Diamond) and his accompanying officers, the love-struck Claudio (Fran Kranz) and the quintessential bachelor, Benedick (Alexis Denisof), who are returning from a war fought against Don Pedro’s villainous brother, Don John (Sean Maher). Claudio takes an instant fancy to Leonato’s only daughter, Hero (Jillian Morgese) while Leonato’s niece, Beatrice (Amy Acker) enjoys bitter verbal sparring matches with Benedick.

Keen to see his dear friend Claudio happily married to his heart’s desire, Don Pedro organises a match for him with Hero. Completely opposed to any kind of happiness, Don John concocts a vicious plan to ensure Hero’s good name become besmirched on the morning of her wedding and ruin everyone’s lives in the process. He succeeds in doing so, but only temporarily; the slander serves to throw Benedick and Beatrice together as they attempt to save Hero’s honour and make things righteous in their noble world. Helped along by the “ass-like” Dogberry (Nathan Fillion) and his sidekick Verges (Tom Lenk) the not very mysterious mystery begins to unfold.

...

Lady Beatrice doth drop her dignity beneath Whedon’s kichen counter.

Some actors are just suited to this kind of work. Amy Acker (Angel, Dollhouse) and Alexis Denisof (Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel) gave wonderful performances as Beatrice and Benedick. Their delivery felt natural and unforced; subtlety within Shakespeare is a hard task to pull off but it was there in their speech, expressions and body language. I felt Clark Gregg (The Avengers, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) as the magnanimous host and father of the bride lacked some of these qualities onscreen, and along with Fran Kranz’s (Dollhouse, The Cabin in the Woods) Claudio, missed the mark at times but both put more than adequate effort into two of the least fleshed-out characters of the original play.

Nathan Fillion (Firefly, Castle) as Dogberry and Tom Lenk (Buffy The Vampire Slayer) as Verges were fabulous. They struck the perfect note for their comic relief roles. I was pleasantly impressed with Fillion as initially I worried I would unfairly compare him to Michael Keaton, who played the roll of the bumbling constable in Brannagh’s 1993 version. Casting him as Dogberry was a marvelous choice by Whedon, and he stole every scene he was in.

...

“Masters, do not forget to specify, when time and place shall serve, that I am an ass.”

One of the struggles evident when creating a re-telling of an old story in a modern environment is that the dated language and ideals very rarely translate well when surrounded by fully equipped kitchens, standard sewerage and iPods. Admittedly though, I barely noticed the subtle changes in the environment once the story began to unfold. Nor did I notice the lack of colour much, and besides, everyone looks much more attractive in black and white. Those moments when modern technology did tend to intrude on the overall bygone atmosphere though did not feel forced, but rather added a frivolous and fun element to the film. Back in the day, if one fancied a lady and wanted to ever see her in the nip, one had to marry her. That was an amusing notion to reconcile as a grown man got his groove on while tunes pumped from a docking station.

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Nice gaff, Joss.

Much Ado About Nothing was filmed over twelve days, all on location at Joss Whedon’s own home, while he was filming The Avengers. It’s not worth it for that piece of trivia alone, but rather for catching a glimpse of an inspired performance from Amy Acker, who was really very good, and delighting in Fillion’s take on one of Shakespeare’s best comedic characters. Kenneth Brannagh’s earlier adaptation still remains my favourite, but this is totally charming nonetheless and served as a treat for all of my senses this cold and rainy afternoon.

IMDB Rating: 7.4
Do I agree?: I would round it up to a nice, even 7.5.

P.S. If you’re a fan of Whedon’s work and want to watch this but struggle with Shakespeare, turn on the subtitles. It should help!

V Does DVD Releases (October) 6/13.
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64 replies

  1. Heard some really good things about this and sounds like a nice quirky little take on Shakespeare. Nice write up.

    • You’ve hit the nail on the head there, that’s exactly what it is. It’s not bloated or overly serious, but rather light, and as you say, quirky, and as such quite enjoyable. If you do watch it I hope you like!

  2. Hmmm, how did I not know about this Whedon Class Reunion? And I love everything Shakespeare EXCEPT Romeo & Juliet…which I loathe with every fiber of my being…

    Another film added to the Verbal Spew Recommendation Backlog I need to go through this weekend, starting on Byzantium and finishing with this one hahahaha. It’ll be a busy Sunday.

    And a Happy New Year to you too!! My New Year’s wasn’t boozy because I don’t drink, but in its place I had so much food the word “orgy” becomes appropriate…starting today I’m on detox from all the “unhealthiness” hahaha

    • Being both a Whedon and a Shakespeare fan, you should like this one! It really was a treat for me seeing a few of my old favourites back together, reciting Shakespeare, of all things. Have you anything else on the list for your weekend watching? Be sure to let me know what you think!

      Ugh, food. I had a serious food baby going on after everything I devoured over Christmas. As for the parties… suffice it to say it’ll take me a while to recover and all I could manage to even look at today was a piece of toast. :D I think I used the well-worn phrase “I’m getting too old for this shit” at least a dozen times over the last week. Glad to hear you enjoyed yours too!

      • Only one other thing in my list, “About Time”, I saw the trailer some time ago and thought it was quirky enough to warrant a look, even if it’s a rom-com

        Then there’s Star Trek 2 and Despicable Me 2 which I never got to see in the cinema :)

        • Fellow reviewers rated About Time very highly. I was actually about to watch it last night (been meaning to for a while) but I really have to be in the mood for romance flicks, and it just wasn’t happening so I watched Elysium instead. Which I was a bit disappointed with.

          I liked both Trek 2 and Despicable Me 2. Enjoy!

          • Just finished watching it and loved it…if only all rom-coms were this good ahaha.

            I have to say Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker steal the show. And while I do agree Agent Coulson’s Leonato is somehow lacking, I was laughing at his Shakespearean hangover after the first party.

            On one moment, when Benedick challenges Claudio to a duel, because of the actors involved, I couldn’t help but think, “Beatrice & Benedick vs Pedro & Claudio…it’s Angel vs Dollhouse”

            • On that last point, LOL. That never occurred to me. Adds a little extra to proceedings! Glad to hear you enjoyed it, it was lovely in its own way. With the added extras of it being made by a favourite writer and director, with a much-loved cast from a few beloved shows.

  3. Nice review V, I’ll probably never watch this as old Bill isn’t really my thing, but thanks just in case!

  4. I like Amy Acker a lot on Person of Interest so look forward to seeing her Beatrice (although she has a hard act to follow in Emma Thompson)

    • Indeed, Emma Thompson is infinitely talented and wonderful as Beatrice. Acker though I felt brought a very charming, vulnerable dimension to Beatrice too, so I did enjoy. I do hope you like it as much as I did!

  5. It’s always good when you chime with IMDb’s rating! Not one I’ve caught yet (the shame), but thanks for reminding me why I need to see this!

    • That surprises me too, it doesn’t often happen that I agree with the IMDB rating! ;D

      I hope you enjoy, and will look forward to reading your thoughts on it when you do catch it.

  6. I would give this movie a try, Whedon has really surprised me recently, his production effort on the small comedy horror, Cabin in the Woods was impressive and I would like to see this also because, Nathan Fillion period.

  7. I always get a little nerdy when talking about Much Ado as it was one of the first Shakespeare plays I got into as a kid, (I didn’t know any better). Plus there’s already a pretty decent movie out there so my cynical side assumed that Whedon’s film was another one of those ‘rebranded’ cash grabs just jazzed up for a new audience.

    I had no idea it was passion film, let alone made in the period of just a few days. I might actually have to drag myself outside to check it out!

    Nice read.

    • Cheers mate, delighted you stopped by! Yes, I was quite tickled when I heard it was such a passion project for him, filmed so quickly and using his own house too, to boot. It didn’t quite match Brannagh’s version for me, but considering the much smaller scale I found that despite the restrictions it worked well. It’s also remarkably true to all of the original dialogue.

      As a fan yourself I’d love to hear your thoughts on it, if you do get to see it make sure you let me know what you think.

  8. Great to see films like this reviewed. Have you seen Castle? If you like detective shows like The Mentalist you might like it.

  9. I must try and get to see this one, although tearing my OH away from ‘Hoarders’ will be a task and a half. Great review!

    • How strange is it that watching a series about a hoarding addiction is actually so addictive? And also strange that my OH is bet into it too, it’s all he’s been watching on Netflix after we figured out how to get the American version. Is your OH harbouring a secret tendency toward hoarding? I think mine is.

      That program drives me crazy, sometimes I feel like crying when I watch it.

      And oh, considering your vocation, do you teach much Shakespeare?

      • He loves it, that and ‘Storage Wars’. My issue with these shows is that they’re just so contrived. But you’re right, OH definitely has a tendency to hold onto things for far too long. When we were moving, I was about to throw out a Playstation One game that is broken (we also don’t own a PS1) but he maintained that ‘you’d never know when it’ll come in handy’ like we’ll be embroiled in some kind of life of death situation with an international terrorist organisation and our only salvation will lie in pre-used PS games. Men eh?

        Ah yes, Shakespeare. I’ve taught several of his plays to students and I do try to make them as interesting as possible but when students are forced to learn quotes and generic statements about the texts, it kinda sucks the fun out of it. You remember studying Shakespeare in school, all those soliloquies and images and iambic pentameters, the students start to resent it.

        Clearly your own teacher did a good job though because your interest has been maintained, and that’s great!

        • A broken PS1 game without a PS1!? :O “You’ll never know when it’ll come in handy” is bang on such a man thing. Bits of string, a broken screwdriver, a stick for stirring paint. Who do they think they are, MacGyver?

          Ah yes, quotes, soliloquies and imagery. I remember it all too well. Want to suck the fun out of something that’s already confusing? Learn this off by heart! It doesn’t matter what it means, just do it. I can only imagine that actually trying to teach Shakespeare in a way that appeals to children is so much harder than actually trying to learn it. I did have a great teacher, I was lucky, but then again I always had a natural predilection for language and I genuinely wanted to know all about it so I suppose I probably made it very easy for him.

          If I’d had characters from Buffy and Angel around back then doing some Shakespeare though it probably would have helped even more. What are kids into these days? TOWIE? They should have all that Z-list reality celebrity crew do a few adaptations of some Shakespeare for the kids, that would be hilaro.

          • Oh dear, MacGyver. He is single-handedly responsible for so many of my things getting broken. “Hey love, d’ya know what’d make your hairbrush even better? If I attached a comb to the other side?” *fifteen minutes later* “Who knew hairbrushes are so breakable. It works for MacGyver.”

            The thing is, I love Shakespeare. I’ve had classes where we’ve had a lot of fun with the texts and I’ve had classes where the students have actually hated him. I try my best to keep them motivated and interested but ultimately, the rote learning alienates most of them unfortunately. Films like this one though do help. I can see your skill with the language; I spend three years trying to explain to students how to write good reviews and yours are excellent. I might even use snippets in class if you don’t mind, just to show them that reviews can actually be fun to read.

            I always say I’d have loved to study ‘The Sopranos’ in school. In terms of character depth and exposition, it’s amazing. You’re right, they’re very into their Towie, much to my chagrin. But yeah, a Towie/Shakespeare mash-up would be amazing. I can see it now: ‘Thou needst to shat uuup’. Haha!!

            • LOL! Oh Christ, I can just hear the accents now, murdering everything they say! But still, it would be gas, and would help everyone understand. If I ever win the lotto, I’ll commission them to do it. Mwahaha.

              Totally flattered by your words (and a bit shocked, haha!) but of course, please feel free to use whatever you’d like if it would help!

              P.S. That comb-brush is genius, get him on Dragon’s Den. ;D

              • Yes, I would probably love it and hate it in equal measure.

                He also came up with shoes with a retractable high heel, which is kinda genius. He did want to be a blacksmith a few weeks back, so it’s kinda like living with a seven year old.

                Anyway, really great review! I’ll definitely keep up with these, because they do influence what I decide to see in the cinema, I’m suggestible like that haha

                • Retractable high heel! That is kind of genius. I still carry flip-flops with me in my handbag when I go out, because I’m a midget and I usually wear killer heels that will cripple me some day soon.

                  Suggestible people are my favourite people! \o/

  10. I largely agree. Except on Benisof – I think him a pretty terrible Benedick, which went a long way toward ruining the flick for me. Acker, however, Acker is indeed inspired. Easily my favorite performance here.

    I too think the movie struggles some when adapting to the modern era, if only because Much Ado is not a timeless play.

    For all of that, this is still entertaining and above average, if not quite fantastic.

    • Being honest James, initially I wasn’t at all sold on Denisof myself at first. It took me about twenty minutes to warm to him and I do believe he was largely improved by sharing scenes with Acker. Whose performance, as you so rightly say, was easily the favourite.

      It was very entertaining, and not what I expected. And despite the couple of issues it had I felt it did deserve the high mark. Quite fantastic indeed! :)

  11. I’ve never heard of this movie. I love Shakespeare so i’ll definitely be checking this movie out :]

  12. This may sound crazy, but I’m usually not a huge fan of these Shakespeare adaptations. However, this one was pretty good in the way its cast just seems to have a total ball with the material, while also still realizing that it’s a serious piece of work as well. Good review.

    • Thanks Dan! And you’re so right, they really did look like they were having a really good time. It shows when a cast are so comfortable together, and with the director too, that they can be completely at ease and earn some freedom to take a chance or two that they might not under normal circumstances. As a result, an enjoyable adaptation was created.

  13. I am always interested in seeing modern renditions of Shakespeare’s works, though I generally am not a big fan of them. It is kind of like watching terrible movies for fun, I guess. That is generally the expectation that I go into them with. There is something definitely lost in Shakespeare when the venue is changed from theater to film, but I have never found anything by the Bard to be less than inspirational, even if I have to listen to Leo DiCaprio to hear the lines.

    • I’d have to agree there. I recall seeing Hamlet on stage in a theatre and being so blown away by the experience that any of the film adaptations just paled in comparison, even though they were quite good too in their own right. It’s hard to compare them when the original intended medium is ultilised; Shakespeare was meant to be performed on a stage. Having said that, and again I’d have to agree with what you’ve already so rightly pointed out, the language and the lines are no less inspirational.

      Have you seen this particular version yourself?

  14. I confess…I was afraid to watch for all the reasons you mentioned above. I was afraid I’d be disappointed in Whedon, I’d find some of my favorite actors had clay feet…so I’m so thrilled to hear it wasn’t the uber disappointment I’d steeled myself to discover. Now I can safely (and with confidence) watch the movie and simply enjoy. Thanks!

    • You’re most welcome Kitt, I do hope you enjoy! It took me this long to watch it because of those reasons, but I’m glad I finally did because it was a most enjoyable romp.

  15. Definitely something I’m going to rent. Big fan of Whedon and Buffy, etc this looks like it will be a good watch

    • It’s something I never thought I’d see them attempt, but it works in its own way. Thanks for stopping by, if you do watch it I hope to read your thoughts on it!

  16. I’m a huge fan of Whedon, Buffy, and Firefly. Shakespeare, not so much. The latter is courtesy Mrs. Grant, Miss Reynolds and Mr. McCoy my 10th, 11th and 12th grade English teachers respectively.

    Mrs. Grant introduced me to Hamlet and A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream. Miss Reynolds, having a well developed fondness for comedy, was satisfied with Taming of the Shrew and Much Ado About Nothing, which I will say was the more enjoyable of the two. Mr. McCoy, a teacher whom I otherwise admired, foisted upon us Romeo and Juliet and MacBeth. Then, almost as an afterthought, he threw in The Merchant of Venice just to make sure that we truly appreciated the Bard of Avon.

    I know in my heart that I should love the gifts that those caring teachers gave me and I realize that I am indeed an unredeemable cur for not doing so. Alas, I find it not in my heart to embrace Shakespeare’s words even though they represent, in every way, the epitome of great English literature.

    On the strength of my liking for Mr. Whedon, I will seek out this work and watch it with great anticipation. When finished, I will slink back to my sordid hovel and wallow in the shame I bear for my literary failure. My only solace being that virtually every fictional story written since the Bard of Avon penned his last word traces its plot to one of his tales. Since, over the years, I have enjoyed many of those narratives, in a visceral way I’ve given Shakespeare a nod.

    As always, dear lady, you have tickled our hearts and minds with your pithy review and your answers to the queries of your devoted readers. Well done and well said.

    • Nay, hardly a cur and responsible for nary a literal failure! Shakespeare’s works divide and many hail him as overrated, and that may be the case, although I tend to blame that on over-saturation overall. It can be hard to embrace and love something that’s presented to us as children and young adults in such a way; love it or hate it, but you have to learn it. A lot I feel is down to how it is taught, and possibly most importantly, which works are taught to you.

      Much Ado, Hamlet, Merchant of Venice – all personal favourites of mine. But Romeo & Juliet and MacBeth? Blueerrrggh. How I struggled with those and happily never revisited upon the completion of my education.

      And on the other hand, some people just plain don’t like it. And that’s quite acceptable and understandable too. I, for example, don’t really like Poe. Everyone else thinks he was a dark genius. While his work was undoubtedly interesting, I think he was probably a closet serial killer.

      As always, thanks for the discussion!

  17. Excellent review V! I plan on watching Whedon’s version some time, I’ve only seen Brannagh’s version which I enjoyed. An interesting bit of triva is that on the Firefly DVD commentary, Whedon mentions that the bickering relationship between Mal and Inara is based on Beatrice and Benedick. Looking forward to the next spew and reading about your crazy hijinks!

    • I love this bit of trivia, fantastic! And I can totally see the connection too, and so many similarities now that I think about it and look back. If you enjoy these kinds of adaptations, and being a fan of Whedon & Co. yourself, then this one should tickle you nicely. ;)

  18. Glad to know you’re a Whedon fan! I actually thought Clark Gregg did a really good job (I’m sure Anthony Head was originally meant to fill that role?), however Acker, Denisof, Lenk and Fillion were indeed excellent as ever. Hoping Whedon will be able to make a non-Disney/Marvel venture soon, as I think the confines of this kind of contract most likely stifles his creativity.

  19. I REALLY want to see this one! Haven’t got a chance yet. Maybe it’ll land on Netflix soon/eventually…
    I’m a huge fan of Dollhouse and seeing Amy Acker and Fran Kranz here makes me smile :) Love them!

    • I hope it does, Kim, I’m sure plenty of people would enjoy this if it was made accessible to them! Hope you get to see it soon, and I hope you like it! (I’m sure you will ;D)

  20. I really, really liked this film. Smarter, funnier, and more romantic than I expected. And I loved Amy Acker. This flick slipped into my Top 10 list from 2013 and let me say I never expected it.

    • Same here! I haven’t even compiled my Top 10 of 2013 list yet, but this one is going on it. Was a very pleasant surprise for me too, and Amy Acker knocked my socks off in it.

  21. Superb write-up V! I agree with you wholeheartedly too, and I’m glad you thought the modern setting was actually to the film’s benefit rather than its detriment. It was so funny to see the script unfold while an iPod sat in the background, while people drove around BMWs (or whatever car was visible in a couple brief shots), etc. Nathan Fillion was terrific.

    • Thank you Tom! I thought the modern setting and the use of those modern, every day items like the iPod (or the fancy, expensive cars as you pointed out) really added another dimension for me. It was a lot of fun.

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