“Much Ado About Nothing” is as charming and as well acted as any viewer could hope for. Filmed in 12 days in black and white, it’s a breezy, somewhat truncated version of the original and will delight viewers with its modern take on the 400-year old play.
In the summer of 2011, the writer-director Joss Whedon, having completed principal photography on Marvel’s Avengers Assemble, was contractually obliged to take a week off before he began editing.
Instead of taking the time off, Whedon, a Shakespearean geek from a long ways back, and at the urging of his wife, decided to film a Shakespearean play.
Those familiar with Shakespeare’s play won’t find anything startling about this version: The men are home from the wars and it’s time for romance. Claudio (Fran Kranz) falls in love with Honor (Jullian Morgese) at first glance. At the same time, Benedict (Alexis Denisof) and Beatrice (Amy Archer) playing former lovers, trade caustic but funny barbs, showing the sexual heat still sizzling between them.
The Duke (Reed Diamond) and his entourage have decided to play a little trick on the two antagonists. When the two enemies are in view, but ostensibly hidden, the rest of the group gossip what the two are really madly in love with each other.
Soon enough, both Beatrice and Benedict have talked themselves into being in love. Denisof shows a real talent for physical comedy which will come as no surprise to those who saw him as Wesley in both “Buffy” and “Angel.” The funniest scene is the film where Denisof over hears the Duke and his two associates discuss how Beatrice is deeply in love with Benedict.
The snake in the grass is the Duke’s bastard brother, slickly and sexily played by Sean Maher, another Whedon regular, who sets up the lovers for a nasty bit of misunderstanding. Villainy, comedic turn by Nathan Fillion as the weary fool, head of a security firm, a fake death are resolved for a happy ending for all.
There are dozens of bits of actor’s business which enliven the movie –Claudio moodily floating in the swimming pool, sipping a martini while wearing a snorkeling mask, Beatrice slapping down the hands of a somewhat drunk suitor at the party, the men roughhousing housed in what is obviously a little girl’s room. Most importantly everybody seems to be having fun. There is even a bit of discrete erotica, just so that audiences know, as if they didn’t already, what lust underlies the romance
Don’t worry about spoilers or get the Cliff Notes. Playgoers since Shakespeare’s day know how the play will end. Lacking the artificial suspense of an unknown ending, viewers can relax and enjoy the Southern California setting (Whedon’s Santa Monica home) and lines spoken clearly with an American accent.
Whedon’s stripped down version works better in the comedic scenes than in the ones’ which need Shakespearean narrative. But for lovers of good, old-fashioned romantic comedy, it’s this summer’s sparkling hit.
Directed by Joss Whedon; written by Mr. Whedon, based on the play by Shakespeare; director of photography, Jay Hunter; edited by Daniel S. Kaminsky and Mr. Whedon; music by Mr. Whedon; production design by Cindy Chao and Michele Yu; costumes by Shawna Trpcic; produced by Mr. Whedon and Kai Cole; released by Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions. Running time: 1 hour 47 minutes.
WITH: Amy Acker (Beatrice), Alexis Denisof (Benedick), Nathan Fillion (Dogberry), Fran Kranz (Claudio), Jillian Morgese (Hero), Sean Maher (Don John), Reed Diamond (Don Pedro), Clark Gregg ( (Leonato) and Tom Lenk (Verges).