JDIFF 2013 Review – Much Ado About Nothing

In this adaptation of the Shakespeare play, writer/director Joss Whedon takes on the story of two pairs of lovers who must fight the odds in order to be together.

Filmed in Whedon’s own home during a 12 day gap during the making of Avengers Assemble, Much Ado About Nothing is an adaptation of a Shakespeare play that may have got to the screen in record time, but is a project that Whedon has been passionate about for many years; since he heard Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof reading the play several years ago.

Filmed entirely in black and white, using the original Shakespearean dialogue, Whedon has created an atmospheric piece that is both funny and tragic, and manages to turn cinematic and Shakespearean tropes on their head, while staying true to the witty and smart style of storytelling that has made Whedon a cult figure.

The two pairs of lovers are made up of Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof (Beatrice and Benedick) and Fran Kranz as Claudio and Jillian Morgese as Hero. Acker and Denisof recreate the quick fire insults and dialogue that characterised Buffy and Spike’s relationship in Buffy The Vampire Slayer and their on screen chemistry is as dynamic as in their previous incarnations in Angel. The duo are the perfect foil for one another when they are at each other’s throats, and charming when they are not.

On the more besotted end of the scale, Kranz and Morgese have less to do, but their on screen chemistry is still incredibly strong. Kranz is adorable as the love struck Claudio, and Morgese, while slightly bland, is just as warm. The rest of the cast is made up of Whedon regulars Nathan Fillion and Tom Lenk, as well as Reed Diamond, Sean Maher and Clark Gregg. While each has a strong idea of their character, and manages to make the Shakespearean dialogue believable, their quick fire delivery is one of the downfalls of the film, as they talk so quickly – and at times the performances feel a little like recitations – it takes almost half an hour for the audience to realise who everyone is, and what their motivations are.

Joss Whedon is one of a handful of directors who could follow up a sprawling adventure like Avengers Assemble with a film that is part passion project, part experiment and part marketable film. Whedon has become known for pulling apart genre and putting it back together, and this is exactly what he does here with Much Ado About Nothing; Benedick and Beatrice’s mutual swearing off husbands and wives is the basis for thousands of rom-coms, but somehow Whedon manages to make this feel fresh and new. The decision to film the movie in black and white adds a layer of darkness and tragedy to the film – which is not always the comedy that it is made out to be – but also serves to separate the film from Baz Luhrmann’s similar attempt to bring Shakespeare to the masses with the wonderfully Technicolor Romeo + Juliet.

Filming the movie in his own home allowed Whedon to give Much Ado About Nothing a feeling of intimacy, which ties in with the fact that the original play takes place in a single location. The fact that this is a location that the actors, as people, are familiar with adds another layer of comfort to the screen.

All is not ‘shiny’ however, in this ambitious project. While the background may often be funnier and more entertaining than the foreground, this is precisely the problem. As well as this, there is so much going on that it can be hard to find the rhythm of the dialogue accessible, and audiences may struggle to find a ‘way in’ to the story for the first half hour or so.

Joss Whedon has done something that probably only Joss Whedon could do; created an ambitious and intimate film in the space of a handful of days, while simultaneously working on the biggest film of his career to date. There is no doubt that Whedon fans will be delighted at his dissection of both Shakespeare and the rom-com as a genre, but this is perhaps the least accessible of Whedon’s works to date, even though the performances, cinematography and setting are top notch. Whedon has taken risks that do not always work out perfectly, but this is precisely what makes him such a brilliant filmmaker; he takes risks.

Rating: 3.5/5

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