Director: Joss Whedon
Starring: Alex Denisof, Amy Acker, Jillian Morgese, Clark Gregg, Fran Kranz, Reed Diamong, Nathan Fillion
From comic books to Elizabethan comedy. From Marvel to Shakespeare. It’s quite a jump. Not since 1992, when Steven Spielberg immediately followed Jurassic Park with Schindler’s List has a director made two more disparate films back to back. But this is exactly what Joss Whedon has done in deciding to follow up the incredible blockbuster success of The Avengers with a small, independent, black and white adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s most beloved comedies, Much Ado About Nothing.
In fact, Much Ado About Nothing couldn’t be futher from The Avengers if it tried. Gone is the enormous sense of scale, the digital effects, the 3D, the cast of superstars and the budget in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Instead, this film was shot at Whedon’s house in 12 days using a cast compiled mainly of regulars from his television days. A long held passion project, Whedon adapted the screenplay, produced, directed, edited, and wrote the music himself. Yet while it is on completely the opposite end of the scale to The Avengers, it is every bit as effective.
Americans don’t have a great track record when it comes to Shakespeare (Al Pacino actually made a very interesting film, Looking for Richard, which sought to determine what it was that caused Americans to struggle so much with the Bard), but this confident, sleek and sexy film will surely find itself resting near the top of the pile. Whedon opts for a contemporary reimagining of this famous story of two pairs of lovers, one brought together by the sport of their friends, the other almost torn apart by a more devious form of trickery. So Italian governors with guards become American politicians with security details, and the Italian villa becomes a Californian mansion.
Much Ado About Nothing is beautifully shot in black and white by cinematographer Jay Hunter, with an aesthetic that feels very akin to Indie movies of the 1990s. But despite its very stylish appearance, this film plays up the bawdiness of Shakespearean comedy to perfection. The dialogue in this farce, packed with double entendre, is delivered with a cheeky wink and a nudge, and there is more than a sprinkling of slapstick humour.
Rather than putting on fake British accents the actors retain their American twangs and it actually works. Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker bounce off each other brilliantly as Benedick and Beatrice, finding the right balance between admiration and distain that is required for this love-hate relationship between two people with sharp minds and tongues. Clark Gregg sits comfortably as a much younger Leonato than you usually get. But the films real scene stealer is Nathan Fillion, who is a scream as the bumbling detective Dogberry.
It has been 20 years since Kenneth Branagh’s all-star adaptation of this play hit the screen and Whedon succeeds in doing something different enough that the play gets a new burst of life. The material feels so fresh. It is a sharp, vibrant and very funny film that demonstrates Whedon’s versatility as a filmmaker.
Rating – ★★★☆
Review by Duncan McLean