I recently watched Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing, and I loved it even more than I thought I would. And I knew I would love it a lot for a few key reasons. One, I love Joss Whedon and all of the actors he uses, so “bam!” great casting, directing, and adapting. Two, I LOVE Much Ado About Nothing. It was one of the very first Shakespeare plays I studied. My English teacher showed us the Kenneth Branagh version (another one of my Shakespeare soul mates) instead of just making us read it. Then, I got to see it performed live at the Stratford Shakespeare festival in Canada, so it’s forever one of my favorites.
Anyway, I went into watching this fully expecting to love it, but even I was surprised by the deep love I had for this adaptation. There was a moment where I literally uttered “Joss Whedon is my spirit animal”, but I guess I should give a few more details…
Let’s start with the casting: each actor brought this awesome and unique take on the characters, but I’ll focus on a couple of my favorites.
Alexis Denisof as Benedick was a great choice. He had this great sort of cockiness that I thoroughly enjoyed. What was best about his performance was how he played off of Amy Acker. I must say though, it was Amy Acker who stuck out more in my mind. I was so used to her as quiet, awkward, mild-mannered Fred that I was pleasantly surprised by her strong Beatrice. Amy Acker has this spectacular talent for delivering the exact tone to her lines that bring out the raw emotion in an extremely powerful way. Her giving the “Were I but a man” speech gave me chills.
Nathan Fillion as Dogberry made my life. I knew he was in the film when I started watching, but I didn’t know what character he played. At first I thought he might be Don John, but then when it turned out to be Sean Maher, I turned to my boyfriend and said “I bet he’s Dogberry” and it made my life. I knew he would be spectacular because he’s Nathan Fillion, but he brought this great realness to the character. Dogberry is a character that is easy to make into a caricature (*cough* Michael Keaton *cough*), but Fillion made me believe it. Don’t get me wrong it was still ridiculous, but it was believable that he was that dumb. He didn’t draw attention to the fact that he said the wrong word; he just said it and that is was made it believable.
Pleasant surprises to see in the movie: Clark Gregg (Coulson) as Leonato (although I think he was too young), Sean Maher (Simon Tam) as Don John, and Riki Lindhome as Conrade.
THIS SECTION CONTAINS SPOILERS!!!!!!
Joss Whedon made same really awesome choices for his adaptation.
The very first scene is Benedick and Beatrice sleeping together, and then Benedick walking out in the morning. This short scene solidified the context of their relationship. The audience has always assumed that they dabbled in dating and it went awry, but no details. Adding that detail helped to make the hurt more real. Beatrice is angry at Benedick, but doesn’t want to give him the satisfaction of knowing she is hurt, so she brushes him off like nothing and takes her digs whenever she can. It’s easier to identify with their characters when you know exactly the hurt they are carrying.
Making Conrade a woman was an interesting choice to that relationship. It gave the villains a cool Bonnie and Clyde feel. By simply changing Conrade’s gender, Whedon took the relationship from a master/lackey relationship to something so much more complex.
The decision to put the film in black and white cannot be ignored, of course. I don’t know for sure if it was the black and white, but the film had this timeless feel to it. I couldn’t quite put my finger on exactly what time period it was supped to be set in, and I liked that. It didn’t matter when and where we were supposed to be because this situation could happen in any setting. It put the focus on the complex relationships on the screen rather than the setting, or set design, or costumes, or anything. By playing down other elements, Whedon drew the focus to the words and acting. That is the key to successful Shakespeare, making sure the words being spoken are the focus of audience attention. Understanding Shakespeare can be challenging enough without overcomplicating it in creative design.
I apologize for the review being disjointed. It’s sort of a train of thought review because my mind jumps from point to point when thinking about what I enjoyed. I think you get the idea though, I loved the film and highly recommend it to anyone, whether Shakespeare master or novice.