Filmed over the course of twelve days within the walls of Joss Whedon’s Californian home, this adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing” is a tale carefully taken away from the shores of Messina and into the modernized world of celebrity, where privacy is scarce and misunderstandings are a daily occurrence. Calling upon the talents that have helped make Whedon such a mainstay of the entertainment industry, the film is unabashedly a do-it-yourself labour of love in which the longstanding friendships of those involved allow for a palpable on-screen chemistry that works well to reinforce the internal family drama that drives much of the script. Coupled with the set’s large windows, open spaces, and levels of rooms and staircases that seemingly make it impossible not to eavesdrop, the Bard’s comedic tale of love and manipulation is successfully brought to life through on-point visual humour and suitably simplistic, but creative, directing.
Upon the day that longtime family friends, Prince Don Pedro (Reed Diamond), Claudio (Fran Kranz), and Benedick (Alexis Denisof), are to return from their travels, Governor Leonato (Clark Gregg), his young daughter, Hero (Jillian Morgese), and his clever niece, Beatrice (Amy Acker) prepare to welcome them into their home and celebrate their safe return. While Don Pedro and Leonato are quick to embrace and exchange pleasantries, and Hero unknowingly catches Claudio’s eye, the reunion of former lovers, Benedick and Beatrice, proves less than kind as they each fall back on their shared talent for verbal sparring. Nevertheless, all is nearly forgotten as attention quickly shifts to the night’s planned ball, which promises endless streams of wine and gossip. Unbeknownst to the reunited party, however, the ball will also provide a necessary cover for Don Pedro’s illegitimate brother, Don John (Sean Maher), who has also returned and now seeks revenge for the lack of respect afforded to him by the others.
“I am an ass.”
Humour takes center stage as witty banter is spoken with ease and the film’s visuals are manipulated to add to comedic effect. With little control over what is said, Whedon takes full advantage of the props and talent available to him, forcing characters to duck behind walls, bushes, and windows in order to uncover new tidbits of gossip, refer to cell phones and other pieces of technology to work around obstacles, and even draw humour from the inherent differences that exist between film and theater. In those moments, Benedick’s arrogance is used against him when his soliloquies become ridiculous scenes in which he’s left to argue with himself, alone. Likewise, liberties taken with The Watch, lead by Nathan Fillion as the incompetent Dogberry, results in some creative manipulation of the script and even a couple of well timed CSI references that make their scenes particularly fun to watch.
“Hath no man’s dagger here a point for me?”
While “Much Ado” is very much a comedy and there are plenty of moments that will make you laugh, it also has its share of drama. Here, for example, Beatrice and Benedick are former lovers struggling to move past their feelings for one another, rather than the two highly independent individuals who have sworn off love for their own sakes that are of the original play. In scenes where they insult and poke fun at one another, the interactions feel more bitter and cutting, making it clear that their repeated declarations that neither will ever have a husband or wife stem from a shared feeling of betrayal that informs their actions. Likewise, when Hero’s honour is threatened later on and accusations begin to fly, a situation that would be difficult for modern audiences to connect to becomes heavily charged with emotion. While the uproar is still hard to swallow, Clark Gregg manages to garner some sympathy for Leonato, Amy Acker gives a powerful performance during her “if I were a man” scene, and Jillian Morgese does well to put a human face on Hero’s situation. None of these scenes last particularly long and the tone is quick to lighten up, but the careful direction presented during these moments serves as a strong reminder of how practised these actors are at their craft.
“Much Ado About Nothing” is a worthy adaptation that faithfully recreates the comedy and drama that has made the play so well loved. Although much of the romance promised in the trailer is pushed to the background, the film’s quick pacing and light hearted scenes make it well worth watching, even if you’re not a fan of Shakespeare.