Much Ado About Nothing (2012)
dir. Joss Whedon
We were lucky enough to have an advance screening of Joss Whedon’s new film of Much Ado About Nothing, which was screened at the SAA conference. Whedon himself presented the movie in a short filmed clip, in which he responded to his own question of why film Shakespeare by asking “why eat cake?” I am struggling to resist the temptation to do violence to his words by describing his Much Ado as an enjoyable confection – dammit.
Whedon’s Much Ado is faithful to the text, but transported to modern times, much to the play’s benefit. The Duke and his men are all sharply dressed in suits, and accompanied by secret service agents, sojourning at Leonardo’s house, which is a sprawling suburban ranch that is fundamentally domestic in its sphere – Claudio and Benedick find themselves sleeping in twin beds in a very young girl’s room, decorated with teddy bears and butterflies, and many of the scenes take place in the kitchen. The hominess of the environment works well to engender the sudden intensity that not only the play requires, but is an inevitable product of several people inhabiting limited shared space – throw A LOT of alcohol into the mix, as Whedon does, and not only does the movie find a space to accommodate the sexual playfulness, but also the insecurities that facilitate the errors in judgment that drive the plot forward. Moreover, placing the play in a sardonic world of high society and political figures sharpens the edge of the language, and this was the first Much Ado I have ever encountered that adequately conveyed emotion without wafting into sentimentality and earnestness. Walking out, a friend noted that the movie “almost redeemed Claudio,” which is a compliment to the warmth of Whedon’s vision.
The cast was uniformly excellent. Whedon included a somewhat unnecessary introductory back story of a sexual affair between Beatrice and Benedick that evaporated when he left her after a night of passion, which was supposed to illuminate Amy Acker’s defensiveness as Beatrice, but seemed superfluous. Acker was the right balance of charming and witty, and her restraint made her acerbic wit ring true. Alexis Denisof was equally good as Benedick, and played the role with an earnestness that undid Benedick’s usual pomposity. Several Whedon regulars rounded out the cast, including a stellar turn from Nathan Fillion as Dogberry, who, dressed in a tan linen suit and shades, had clearly seen too many 1980s cop dramas.
In short, watch this movie. It’s a testament to both Whedon and Shakespeare that this play feels so relevant, and it’s refreshing to see how a Shakespearean comedy can be so entirely funny without resorting to pratfalls and lewd gestures to make its point. Whedon has a fine tuned sense of irony and it suits this play well. I think Shakespeare would have approved. (L. Geddes, March 2013)