Much Ado About Nothing
Joss Whedon // 2012 // 109 mins
A passion project shot at his home over 12 days having wrapped up The Avengers, Much Ado About Nothing is Joss Whedon's modern day retelling of a Shakespeare classic that brings together a slew of the directors recurring collaborators, both new and old. When Leonato (Clark Gregg), the governor of Messina, hosts his friend Don Pedro (Reed Diamond) and his officers Benedick (Alexis Denisof) and Claudio (Fran Kranz) a romance sparks between Claudio and the Governors daughter Hero (Jillian Morgese). A wedding is planned for the young pair, which Don Pedro's brother Don John (Sean Maher) plots to sabotage before it occurs. Meanwhile the group plan to trick Benedick and the Governors niece Beatrice (Amy Acker), who enjoy regular verbal sparring matches, into falling in love with one another.
Adapted for the screen by Whedon himself, the film retains the distinctive Shakespearean English of the original play, a decision that generates an inevitable comparison to Baz Luhrmann's 1996 adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. Whereas Luhrmann's film made the language just one component of a much larger spectacle, here Whedon crafts a far more elegant transition which, though initially jarring, soon feels natural to the modern day world he has created. This is helped to no end by the ensemble of actors that have been gathered, among whom Amy Acker rises as the central star of the piece, handling the dialogue with ease and giving an honest and wonderfully engaging performance. The heated love/hate relationship between her Beatrice and Denisof's Benedick is the films, and the plays, most successful aspect and its moderate screen time leaves a longing for more that is unfortunately not inspired by Claudio and Hero's central romance. The success of Benedick and Beatrice's romance also lies in its strong comedic aspect, laying claim to a number of the films best one-lines and feisty zingers. The screwball comedy aspect of the story is further heightened by Nathan Fillion and Tom Lenk as Constable Dogberry and his partner Verges, whose farcical stylings provide an even lighter relief from the more serious nature of the Claudio/Hero affair.
The small-scale production is given a glamorous facelift through stunning black and white cinematography which is framed and lit perfectly. It would have been nice to see how the small flourishes of colour that were present in the films fantastic trailer could have been utilised in the full film, but this absence in no way detracts from the finished product. Using his own home as the setting for the majority of the films events allows Whedon to confidently create an intimate warmth that feels familiar and makes it impossible to not be swept up by films charm. The location is utilised exhaustively, with an enchanting fairy-lit masquerade garden party and two hilariously choreographed snooping scenes among the most successful uses of the space. It is the combination of the secluded location and the black and white image conjure up a timelessness to the film that would be watertight but for one slightly misplaced use of an iPhone in the films closing scenes.
Joss Whedon has once again proved his mastery of the ensemble piece, producing an irresistible slice of romantic silliness that shows just how effective a smaller production can be when carefully crafted. Whedon and Shakespeare are a perfect pair.