Much Ado About Nothing Review
by Daniel Rester
I’m not sure I could ever call myself a huge fan of The Bard. I definitely respect him for all that he did for plays, poetry, acting, etc., but I have never been able to become very attached to his work on a personal level. All of his stories and characters are excellent, but the language barriers between the English changes over the centuries are what have kept me at a distance. Reading Shakespeare plays out loud in high school was always interesting, but I feel that I never was able to fully appreciate it because I wasn’t taught what certain passages meant for the times. But my recent studies in college, and film adaptations like Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing, make me want to dive more into the playwright’s work.
Whedon’s version of Nothing is definitely one of the more entertaining Shakespeare adaptations that I have seen. Coming off of the big-budget The Avengers, Whedon decided to do a small-scale, low-budget Shakespeare film at his house in Santa Monica. The director gathered together some friends and usual cast choices and shot the adaptation in just twelve days. It sounds like a very basic exercise when all is said and done, but the result is actually one of the better films of 2013.
Nothing tells the classic tale of Benedick (Alexis Denisof) and Beatrice (Amy Acker). Benedick and Claudio (Fran Kranz) are companions to Don Pedro (Reed Diamond), Prince of Aragon. The three return from a battle and are invited to stay with Leonato (Clark Gregg), the governor of Messina, for a month. During the stay, Claudio becomes interested in Hero (Jillian Morgese), who is Leonato’s daughter. Claudio and Hero are then set to be married, but Don John (Sean Maher), who is known as “The Bastard Prince” and is Don Pedro’s brother, seeks to ruin the arrangement and use the situation to get revenge on his brother. Meanwhile, Don Pedro and others try to forge a romance between Benedick and Beatrice (Leonato’s niece), who are longtime adversaries.
Whedon did little changing to the story and characters in bringing forth his version of Nothing. The big difference here, though, is that Whedon’s film takes place in modern times, and it is replete with cell phones, new pistols, etc. But the film never has characters comment on such modern looks or equipment, and it instead sticks to the original dialogue of the story. The idea here is to show that The Bard’s work can easily cross over centuries into other settings and still be effective, given the right treatment that is. Whedon definitely succeeds at doing this. The director isn’t the first person to try such a modernization of Shakespeare setting-wise, but his film stands above many of the others that have come before it.
The updating of the setting makes everything a bit more accessible for non-Shakespeare fans. But lovers of Shakespeare won’t be disappointed by the changes at the same time. This is because Whedon keeps the gaiety and intelligence of the play intact, and makes the dialogue seem completely natural — despite the modernization of other things. He also lets nearly every character of the Shakespeare work shine through, driving the actors to really deliver with their approaches. The spark and appreciation in Whedon’s touch with all of this allows for a perfect balance.
Whedon doesn’t skimp on the look of the film, either. He and cinematographer Jay Hunter apply a black and white aesthetic that really adds some flavor to the film; the choice of using no color and presenting very colorful characters allows for an interesting juxtaposition. Hunter’s framing is exceptional, never becoming showy but always providing a certain grace. Shooting at Whedon’s house was an odd choice, but it pays off because the home is beautiful and fitting-enough – and delivers some sweet movie digs.
The entire cast shines in Nothing. Acker has fire to spare as Beatrice, and Denisof has a great likability about him as Benedick. Also fun are Gregg and Nathan Fillion, with the latter a hoot as the constable Dogberry. A near standout here, though, is Kranz. The actor really captures the varied emotions of Claudio throughout the play, expertly expressing both his hopefulness and angst.
Nothing only has a couple of weak aspects. One is Denisof, but only at times. The actor has plenty of charm, but at times his performance turns bland and it seems as if he is reading lines off of a page. The other small issue is that some of the very minor supporting actors are not fully believable.
For the most part, Nothing succeeds greatly at entertaining. Shakespeare’s writing comes through intact, Whedon’s craftsmanship is remarkable, and the cast is outstanding. The film really allowed me to appreciate Shakespeare in a different and refreshing kind of way, and it made me want to explore and admire his work more.
Rating: 3 ½ out of 4 stars (Grade Equivalent for Me: A-).