Review of Joss Whedon’s “Much Ado About Nothing.”

Continuing my reviews of Much Ado About Nothing, here is a more modern take that, sadly I didn’t enjoy as much, yet it won a lot of awards, and it should be commended for being filmed over 12 days and in the director’s own house, but as a Shakespearean adaptation, it just lacks the scope, the skill, and the visual language to tell the story properly.

  1. Name:Much Ado About Nothing
  2. Year: 2012
  3. Ages: high school/ college students
  4. Media: Full length movie, (also available on DVD and Netflix Streaming)
  5. Recommendation: Sadly, I don’t think this version will hold up in a classroom for long- its dull, black and white filming does not, (as some have claimed), reflect a past era of “screwball comedy.” Instead, the lack of color only makes the film look depressing. The drab environment does work for the second half of the film, (after Hero is slandered at the wedding), but I feel that the film is mainly designed to pander to people who are fans of Whedon and some of his more successful projects. If you aren’t a fan of Buffy, The Avengers, or Dr. Horrible, you won’t enjoy the performances, the setting, and certainly not the way they handled Shakespeare.
  6. Premise: A modern dress version of the story. In some ways I feel like Whedon watched Kenneth Branaugh’s film and decided to do everything in opposition: whereas Branaugh was colorful, romantic, and set in a past time period, Whedon chose to be contemporary, small, intimate, and film entirely in Black and White. This does call to mind images of wedding photography, which could’ve worked if they explored that angle more, but really this just looks like a student art-film at somebody’s house, filled with actors who are talented, but have little experience with Shakespeare.
  7. Moments to watch for:
    1. The Beginning- two people in bed, having obviously enjoyed intimate relationships. One is a clean shaven man wearing flannel shirt (Alexis Denishof as Benedick). He gets up and sneaks out of the room. The woman in bed (Amy Acker as Beatrice) has tears in her eyes, then looks over the pillow and crunches into a ball, ashamed of what she’s done. This scene is a flashback inspired from a line from Act II, where Beatrice confesses that Benedick won her heart before “With false dice.” This sets up their antognism and explains the verbal sparring they use when the play begins.
    2. The Benedick gulling scene- it’s impossible to mess this scene up if you have good actors playing the Prince and Leonato, and a director who loves slapstick. Benedick dives past windows, hides in corners, and nearly gives himself away looking like a parody of Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible.
  1. My reaction: 

I admire Whedon taking a daring choice by putting this comedy in one house, and filming it in a very short time, but the results are not good. The cinematography is boring, so is the music and the lighting. Virtually every actor delivers their lines in a manner that is understated and quiet. The problem is that this play is not subtle, none of Shakespeare’s comedies are. I feel this is a primary error that we Americans make when we try and put Shakespeare on film- remember that he wrote his plays for 3,000 people at the Globe Theater, some of whom were probably drunk, and I defy anyone to find subtlety or understatement in lines like: “I cannot endure my lady Tongue!”

  1. Notable cast membersLike I said before, all the actors in this film have been in past Joss Whedon projects such as The Avengers, Angel, Buffy, Cabin In the Woods, or Dr. Horrible. It seems like he wanted to do something new with his favorite actors and decided to do an indie version of Shakespeare. The problem is that, as the cast admitted, none of them have much Shakespeare training:

Frankly, this lack of training shows in most of their performances. All of them clearly know what they’re saying, but don’t know why it’s funny, and have very little idea who their characters are.Unfortunately the worst offenders in this category are the leads Benedick and Beatrice. They mumble most of their lines with a kind of nervous, quiet delivery as if they want to be done with this film and doing something else. They don’t have chemistry with each other, and they don’t seem to enjoy talking, which makes me wonder why I would bother to watch this film.

Even worse, the camera work and setting contribute little to the enjoyment of the film. Especially in the beginning of the film, the camera is very close to the characters, which helps capture their emotions, but makes the film feel very boring and claustrophobic. This does work however, whenever the story focuses on Don John’s plot to slander and destroy Hero. I wonder if Whedon chose to focus more on Hero and Claudio than the other two lovers because once Hero is accused, the pace quickens, the emotions start coming out, and everything gets dark and depressing enough to warrant the weird choice of black and white film.

The only people having fun with their performances are Don Pedro (Reed Diamond), Leonato (Clark Gregg), and Claudio (Fran Kranz). They have crossed the bridge between the language and the characters, rather than looking like students trying to do Shakespeare at school. Honorable mentions go to Nathan Fillion as Dogberry, and Riki Lindhome as Conrade, who changed the role from Don’ John’s confidante to his lover, and thus gave a rather thankless part an interesting slant.

  1. Grade: 1 Shakespeare globe.

For More Reviews:

  1. Roger (Not written by Ebert himself):
  2. Much Ado About Nothing by Dana Stevens: 

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