One of Shakespeareâ€™s most popular and enduring plays, filmed in just 12 days, in black and white at the Directorâ€™s house on a shoestring budget and using only his actor friends as castâ€¦sound like a recipe for disaster? You may be right, but said director helming this adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing is none other than Joss Whedon. The powerhouse behind Buffy, Angel, Firefly, Dollhouse and more recently The AvengersÂ has turned his eye to more intimate affair with this passion project filmed in late 2011.
For those not familiar with the play, Much Ado is the original rom-com, the very first will-they-wont-they, and the ultimate love/hate relationship. Being Shakespeare though, donâ€™t expect it all to be flowers and romance, thereâ€™s also room for some mistaken identity, death, betrayal and general tragedyâ€¦
The story charts the return of Don Pedro and his men Claudio and Benedick to Messina. Upon arrival Claudio is quickly betrothed to the sweet Hero and preparations for the wedding begin. At the core of the story is the relationship between the fiery Benedick and feisty Beatrice. While the couple openly display nothing but disdain for each other, Hero, her father Leonato and Claudio begin meddling, convinced they are a match made in heaven.
In this adaptation Whedon-regulars Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker take the reigns of the two in question. Denisofâ€™s Benedick is flawlessly cocky, confident, bumbling, and whilst Ackerâ€™s Beatrice doesnâ€™t have quite the unbridled fire cinema and theatregoers may be used to, she embodies all the heart, strength and wit needed for Shakespeareâ€™s leading lady. They both quickly prove adept at not only carrying the screwball comedy and slapstick but pay close attention to the emotional heart of the story.
The supporting cast is on a similar practiced form. Clark Gregg, last seen recruiting The Avengers takes on Leonato and steals scenes not only with his comic delivery, but also his performance in the heightened scenes of tragedy. Fran Kranz is perfectly judged as the naÃ¯ve, love-struck Claudio who shifts to reveal a darker, hot-headed, cruel nature as the story proceeds and Jillian Morgese is vibrant as the young, graceful, gentle Hero.
The black and white footage, original music written by Whedon himself and lurking camera style heighten the dream-like, elegant surroundings as we follow the characters on an alcohol-soaked journey across several days. With a modern setting, but maintaining much of Shakespeareâ€™s original dialogue, it could prove for a jarring effect, but the chic, woozy atmosphere of the film carries it perfectly. There are also some fantastic modern references when you least expect them, keep an eye out for the iPod, fist-pump, cupcake, lunges, and an ass (when you see it, youâ€™ll understand!)
The lively cast that is rounded out by impressive performances from Reed Diamond (Don Pedro), Nathan Fillion (Dogberry), Sean Maher (Don John) and Tom Lenk (Verges) energetically keep the story thrilling, exciting and funny, often at the same time and itâ€™s a testament to Whedon that he was able to capture such fantastic performances, beautiful music and stunning visuals in such a restricted setting.
The closeness and intimacy of the house only enhances the depths of the characters we explore, taking us closer and more personal than the stage ever could. It revitalizes the characters, giving them a sense of originality that many adaptations have failed to achieve.
A beautifully crafted piece of cinema and a fresh revival of the Bardâ€™s wittiest of plays.
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