Starring: Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Fran Kranz
Directed by: Joss Whedon (“The Avengers”)
Written by: Joss Whedon (“The Avengers”)
When looking for someone to adapt a literary work by a writer considered the greatest of his generation, most people wouldn’t think it would be an option to go with a guy whose claim to fame was creating a movie and TV show in the 90s about a teenage girl who slays vampires. But you’d be wrong.
In the newest adaptation of William Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing,” director/writer Joss Whedon (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “The Avengers,”) takes a huge step away from the blockbuster hype and fandom that surrounds his name to retell a story that, honestly, didn’t have to be retold again. For whatever reason, however, Whedon disagrees and makes it his mission to give us a contemporary version of what many believe is easily one of Shakespeare’s best comedies.
What Whedon is able to do so effortlessly is take the Shakespearean language and make it resonate through daintily charming black and white scenes with actors who really add a lot of color to their characters. At its core, there is a story of infidelity, but Whedon seems to focus more on the romantic connections lost and formed between the sets of couples in the film. There is a lot of matchmaking (more than your generic romantic comedy these days), but actors like Amy Acker (“The Cabin in the Woods”), Alexis Denisof (“The Avengers”), Nathan Fillion (TV’s “Castle”), and Clark Gregg (“The Avengers”) – all of whom worked with Whedon before – own their roles, so it always feels like the relationship scenarios ring true.
Still, as fancy-free as Whedon hopes “Much Ado” is, it’s not like other versions of the story in the past haven’t done the same thing. Kenneth Branagh’s 1993 film starring Kate Beckinsale, Emma Thompson and Keanu Reeves is quite good, especially with Branagh – a Shakespeare aficionado – at the helm. Whedon’s verison might introduce the narrative in an inventive way, but it’s one of those films people are more likely to respect than fully enjoy.
Give credit to Acker though. Her take on Beatrice rivals what Thompson does with the role in Branagh’s film, which isn’t an easy task. Acker gives the character spunk. Her dialogue is delivered with a sharpness that’ll almost make you forget she’s speaking in late 16th century dialectal. Whedon gets a lot out of the cast, which worked on this film for 10 days at his own home during the summer. Anyone who can go from shooting something as extravagant as Hulk smashing faces to something as classic a Shakespearian theater has a range any filmmaker would kill to have. For that, “Much Ado” is a curiosity piece that should be seen at least once.
“Much Ado About Nothing” was screened at the 2013 South by Southwest Film Festival.