Saturday, October 12, 2013

Much Ado About Nothing

Ah, such a quaint happening -- a Shakespeare adaptation... modernized, but with the original script intact... filmed in black and white... at the director, Joss Whedon's own house... in the span of about twelve days... with a bunch of famous people he calls "friends." I believe I had never been more interested in Shakespeare in my life.

And I finally got to see it, but now I meet with a little difficulty. I am no expert on Shakespeare, and honestly I probably feel a bit too proud of myself for understanding this movie, though it was relatively easy. I don't feel qualified to critique this movie. I lack the experience and understanding to know if this is a good adaption or not. I only know what I happened to like and dislike. So let this be a disclaimer, and from here on I'll go ahead and make this review as biased, subjective and otherwise personally opinionated as I like. As, really, these things should be.

Leonato is ashamed... no... just hungover.
Apart from one annoying hiccup, I have never has more fun watching Shakespeare than with this little film. And I'll address that one problem first, that is, that in spite of the original script remaining majorly intact, the story has been pointlessly sexed up, just to the level of  PG-13. The villain's accomplice was changed to be a woman seemingly for the sole purpose of their being a couple to add a random inappropriate scene. Then there is another exactly where you'd think it'd be if you know the story. It spoils the movie just enough to make disappointment rain on the otherwise delightful experience. This is the first and last negative thing I will say about the movie, on to the good stuff!

Like the cast. Though this is another situation where my lack of Shakespearean knowledge weighs me down, but, in general, no one sounded unnatural or like they were just saying lines. The leading couple, Beatrice and Benedick, (Amy Acker, and Alexis Denisof) are fiery and goofy -- former mostly to former and latter mostly to latter -- well matched and fun to watch. I particularly love the hilarious, over-the-top scenes where they try desperately to overhear "secret" conversations staged for their benefit. And the one scene between, where Benedick goes through a series of lunges, pushups, and crunches, in an obvious attempt to impress the icy lady.

The comedic styles of Shakespeare and Whedon suit each other very well.

Also standing out in the cast is the awesome Clark Gregg as Leonato, delivering the comedic one-liners only slightly more brilliantly than his dramatic lines. Sean Maher is the complete opposite of his Firefly character, and impressively so, as Don John, the cold, scheming evil villain, and his Firefly captain, Nathan Fillion is probably the funniest character, Dogberry. I laughed many times. And the secondary couple, Hero, played by newcomer, Jillian Morgese, and Claudio, Fran Kranz, easily manage to be an adorable couple is spite of relatively limited screen-time. Everyone in this movie is so obviously having a blast, how can we do anything but also have a blast watching them?

The most effortlessly stylish "home video" ever.

It was an interesting choice to set the film in modern times but still keep the original Shakespearean language, and it was, in all likelihood, a choice of convenience, (scripts and period costumes cost time and money) but it worked in a surprising, unique way. A little jolting at the very first, but only for the first few lines at most, before it becomes perfectly natural. Ladies in floaty dresses, men in suits and the black and white (also a convenience... that I wholeheartedly approve of) suspends your disbelief; it's not set in modern times or the 1600's, it's set in a time and a world of its own.

And a world, at that, that I would by no means mind living in -- a laid-back, joyful place where making a movie is as easy and fun as calling up your friends for a party and grabbing a video camera and a book for source material. And for someone like me, that is nothing short of inspiring.


  1. I can't wait to see this! I've ordered it, but it isn't here yet. SOON!

    This is my second-favorite Shakespeare play, and I really love the Kenneth Branagh version -- if you can get your hands on it, watch it. There's a bit of inappropriateness at the beginning, in the form of everyone joyously taking baths -- lots of naked butts, nothing else. There's also a scene where Don Jon's henchman gets it on with a woman that poor Claudio thinks is Hero, but it's a bit from a distance, very brief, and shows no nekkidness at all. If that's the basic gist of the "random inappropriate scene" you mentioned, well, that's in the play.

    I really like movies that use the original text but have a modern setting -- the Ethan Hawke version of Hamlet is very modern, but with the original text. I totally recommend it if you're in a Shakespeare mood. It's the only one I like that has very modern clothes and setting, but I also like some versions that are set in the 1920s, the very late 1800s, and even one set kind of maybe in India at an unspecified time.

    Can't wait to see this!

    1. I actually have seen Kenneth Branagh's version, only it was so long ago that I don't remember almost anything from it. I did enjoy it though, and have been wanting to see it again. Sounds like this version is quite a bit more inappropriate than Branagh's. (Though there's no nudity) The scene at the window that Claudio witnesses I expected, but it could have easily been less inappropriate. But the "random" one was between Don John and Conrade (who was changed into a girl... just for that purpose?), and was totally unnecessary and uncalled for, so that was annoying.

      Yeah I thought it was very cool that way. I don't think I've seen any other films in the same style, but it certainly is a style I'd love to see again. If the script is modernized too, it'd loose all it's charm! I think I'm definitely developing an interest in all things Shakespeare -- I just finished The Hollow Crown, with Tom Hiddleston as Henry V, and loved it!

      I hope your copy arrives soon and you enjoy it thoroughly! :)

    2. Okay, that IS random -- I expect I'll be annoyed too. Weird.

      I haven't seen The Hollow Crown yet, but I'm glad to hear it's good!

      I also ordered a companion book that goes along with Much Ado with notes from Joss and stuff in it, and maybe the shooting script/text too? I think so.

  2. Shakespeare's work is not something that I am familiar with, but I really want to see the movie because Whedon made it and the cast is amazing!

    You mentioned that there is some humor, but would you consider the movie a comedy to any degree? I am curious because I am not sure if I should convince my family or friends to watch it with me if the movie is not humorous enough.


    1. Much Ado is probably Shakespeare's most famous comedy, though it's considered one of his "problem plays" because there's a fair amount of darkness and drama in it too. Whether or not an individual viewer will find it funny is, as always, hard to predict.

      (Didn't mean to hijack your comments, Sarah -- just wanted to answer James because I love this play a lot. I'm eager to see if you found it funny, since I haven't seen this version yet!)

    2. It's classified as a comedy, and I'd definitely agree with that, but as Hamlette said there's one part of serious drama as well. Personally, I thought it was hilarious! Half the comedy was understated -- classic old-fashioned British -- and the other half was way-over-the-top, farce/slapstick style.

      I loved it, but my brother who loves comedies decided to see it because of Whedon too, and left in the middle. But then he came back for the end... So again, I agree with you, Hamlette, it really depends on what kind of comedy you like.... and if you can get past the Shakespearean language! ;)

  3. Much Ado is my favourite Shakespeare play (after Hamlet of course, nothing beats that play for me). And I still really need to see this film! It's shameful that I haven't seen it already really since I'm a big Shakespeare and Joss Whedon fan. Since you liked this film I'd also recommend the David Tennant and Catherine Tate version. I saw them in the play live back in 2011 (I think?) and it's available to buy on the Digital Theatre website.

    1. You'll probably enjoy it then! Oh, really? I'll definitely have to check that out! Ever since I heard they were in Much Ado together, I've wished I could have seen it. They're so great together in Doctor Who, every time a watch them I think of how incredible they probably were.