sounds terrible. William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, updated
to the present day with the bard’s (abridged) text spoken by actors wearing
contemporary garb? Ugh. Enough with the Shakespeare updates, OK? And by Joss
Whedon? Mr. Pop Culture? You’re killing me.
It would be
wonderful (not really) to report that this cold critic’s heart remained icy,
that this new Much Ado was as rotten as Denmark during Hamlet’s time. It
ain’t. In fact, Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing is delightful, fun and
full of life. (But I reserve to the right to re-shrink my cold critic’s heart
in the future.)
last few movies have been markedly different from each other. Remember, he
wrote and directed the gargantuan (and surprisingly giddy) Marvel movie version
of The Avengers. He co-wrote the genre-bending and
could-have-been-dumb-but-was-a-laugh-riot The Cabin in the Woods, in
which it is explained to us, the audience, why horror movies follow a path from
which they never diverge. He’s also responsible for the TV shows
Firefly, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel.
So, why not
tackle Shakespeare? Why not cast your friends (many of the actors have appeared
in Whedon’s TV shows and movies)? Why not let the words roll trippingly on the
tongue (wrong play, but whatevs)? Why not shoot an ultra low-budget version in
your own home in 12 days? WHY NOT?
unfussiness of the production and the speed under which it was made contributes
to its freshness. And the Santa Monica setting belies the notion that
contemporary Shakespeare updates are necessarily bad (or at best, mediocre).
When there’s this much passion invested, and the actors are this game, the fact
that we’re holstering guns instead of sheathing swords doesn’t much matter.
in case you’re far removed from English class: Leonato (Clark Gregg) lives in
Messina with his daughter, Hero (Jillian Morgese), and niece, Beatrice (Amy
Acker). The story begins with Leonato welcoming home old friends from war,
including Don Pedro (Reed Diamond), Claudio (Fran Kranz) and Benedick (Alexis
Denisof). There’s also Don John (Sean Maher), Don Pedro’s illegitimate brother,
who exists for the sole purpose of making trouble for everyone else.
trouble he does. Claudio falls in love with Hero and they plan to marry, but
Don John has one of his henchman trick Claudio and Don Pedro into thinking Hero
is a tramp, and they shun her publicly. Meanwhile, Don Pedro, Leonato and
Claudio try to get Beatrice and Benedick together, thinking their outward
mutual revulsion hides secret love.
You know the
rest, right? (Spoiler alert: It works out for everyone.)
marveled at the fact that someone (say, Shakespeare) can take a public
shunning, false claims of non-purity and threats of death (and fake deaths),
and make it light and airy. But that’s Much Ado About Nothing, and
Whedon and the cast show respect for the text, and also clearly love tearing
into the words.
particular, has fun, making Beatrice bouncy but still serious and passionate;
she’s no one’s fool (until she is, of course). Denisof’s Benedick is nearly her
equal, though his voiceover-ready larynx occasionally threatens to get in the
wonders with Claudio, moving successfully back and forth between simmering rage
when he believes Hero has been with another, and chastened sadness when he
thinks she’s died as a result of his accusations. And Whedon works in some
nifty directorly touches, as when Don John steals a cupcake at the wedding
reception after he’s brought the proceedings to a screeching halt.
performance belongs to Diamond. He sounds as if he’s been speaking
Shakespeare’s text as long as he’s been speaking, truly comfortable in the role
of Don Pedro. Nathan Fillion is an appropriately goofy, yet somehow
So, get thee
to a multiplex, and see Much Ado About Nothing. (Here, mercifully,
endeth my corny wordplay.)
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING
Directed by Joss Whedon
With Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof and Nathan Fillion
Santa Fe Reporter