Movie Review: Much Ado About Nothing
Pros:Breakout performances from a cast of TV actors and a hilarious screenplay.
Cons:It's quick turnover takes away from it in places.
Initial fears that Joss Whedon had produced a hyped-up student production of Shakespeare were banished by a hilarious screenplay and surprising performances from a cast of his regulars.
Following the screening of Much Ado About Nothing at the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival, Joss Whedon described the Shakespeare play as the original romantic comedy. By definition, this also means it’s the director’s first feature length comedy – something we all know is within his wheelhouse – and it’s very, very funny. The adaptation isn’t something made to appeal to Whedon’s core fans (though they’ll love it anyway) but for admirers of Shakespeare it might have always seemed obvious that the creator of Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog, a musical tragicomedy, was the ideal candidate for such an undertaking. During the festival Q+A, Whedon also praised the virtues of DIY filmmaking and Much Ado is certainly another successful experiment for the director with that philosophy.
The opening shots in black and white, overlade with a heavy, one note piano score made this Whedon fan wonder if his worst fears had been realised and his idol had produced something on-par with a clichéd student film. While a lot of the flaws of the shoestring shooting method are visible on the screen, the film only gets better and better from there. Whedon has a fresh take and a deft hand for comedy, eliciting humour not just from the text but sometimes at its expense. But the absolute best thing about Much Ado is the many fantastic performances from his stock group of actors.
Clark Gregg, who has never been that impressive, really makes up for it with his portrayal of Leonato. Amy Acker and Fran Kranz deliver the performances of their careers to date. Alexis Denisof also pushes the boundaries of what we’ve seen from him previously but his performance is the most uneven. To be fair, he does get the lion’s share of soliloquies, where the trappings of a Shakespearean adaptation are the most obvious.
Nathan Fillion had the audience in hysterics and Reed Diamond whom you’ll recognise from playing sundry supporting characters all over TV is a revelation as such a natural with the Shakespearean text. After Much Ado, you won’t underestimate him next time you see him playing Agent Whatshisface #2 on Derivative Cop Drama: Newport Beach.
Using one location and a twelve day shoot gives Much Ado a feeling of being closer to its roots on the stage than perhaps other film adaptations but it also falters in places in that respect. It really wouldn’t have hurt the film’s credibility to use an outside location for the offices of the Night Watch for example, as opposed to just another room in Whedon’s Santa Monica home with some mock-up wanted posters blu-tacked to the walls. But it’s a testament to what he’s capable of that this is a minor gripe in a very successful, probably the most accessible adaptation of the play to date. Whedon fan or no, Shakespeare fan or no, it’s also a damn enjoyable film.