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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.