June 24, 2013

Much Ado About a Good Film

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Joss Whedon can officially do no wrong. Julia Moser `15 has almost no complaints about his newest film, Much Ado About Nothing, which was shot in 12 days in black and white. Anyone who has ever struggled through an 8th grade English class reading A Midsummer Night’s Dream, or really any Shakespeare play, knows that class goes a lot smoother if you’ve seen the movie (the one with Kevin Kline.) That being said, Shakespeare adaptations are tricky: on the one hand you want to preserve the wonderful language and plots and, on the other, you want a 21st century audience to be able to relate to the characters and not just understand the story, but enjoy it.

Joss Whedon’s new adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing, entirely in black and white and shot in 12 days at Whedon’s own house (his wife is an architect), perfectly strikes this balance. It feels very fresh, though the story is 400 years old. Whedon, known for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly and more recently The Avengers, has put together a fantastic ensemble of actors in his latest film to retell one of William Shakespeare’s best comedies.

In case you don’t have a crush on Kenneth Branagh from watching the 1993 version of Much Ado About Nothing on VHS several times a year during your childhood, the play is about two sets of lovers: Hero (Jillian Morgese) and Claudio (Fran Kranz), and Beatrice (Amy Acker) and Benedick (Alexis Denisof.) Claudio and Benedick are both companions to the prince, Don Pedro (Reed Diamond), and are staying in the home of Leonato (Clark Gregg), who is the father to the fair Hero and uncle to the sharp-tongued and determinedly single Beatrice.

Claudio falls for Hero upon first sight, whereas Benedick spends the majority of the play discussing his unabashed hatred for Beatrice (she likewise complains about his character and facial hair.) While Don John (Sean Maher), Don Pedro’s evil and jealous bastard brother, and his cronies (who include one half of the comedy duo Garfunkel and Oates, Riki Lindhome) plot to separate Claudio and Hero, Claudio and Hero plot to get Beatrice and Benedick together. Shenanigans ensue. There is a double wedding at the end.

It’s a relatively straightforward Shakespeare play (no witches or murder-suicides), but what makes Much Ado About Nothing special is Beatrice and Benedick’s battle of wits. Beatrice is an atypical and phenomenal heroine: she speaks her mind, complains about the place of women in society and refuses to be a docile and subservient wife to any man. Benedick disapproves of the institution of marriage just as much as Beatrice and insists he will remain a bachelor.

Their banter is wonderful and Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof shine in their respective roles. Acker is the perfect level of fiery: her insults are biting and hilarious but she remains likable. Denisof too pulls off being playfully snarky without crossing over into mean territory.

While Beatrice and Benedick are the real focus of the story, the constable Dogberry (Nathan Fillion) takes the lead  in several hilarious scenes in the midst of the darker portion of the play just before the couples are finally wed. Fillion departs from the cool genius he plays in Castle, and instead the audience is treated to a wonderfully ignorant Captain Hammer-esque performance (Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-long Blog.)

All of the actors did an excellent job with Shakespeare’s language in the film — so much so that one almost forgets that one is listening to something other than normal speech. Somehow the thous and thees felt very natural and not at all out of place with the modern dress and setting.

Whedon also interpreted the play wonderfully in terms of the camera: The shots perfectly capture the flow of the dialogue and, I think it’s safe to say, we see what Shakespeare would have wanted us to see when he would have wanted us to see it.

I really have very few complaints about it. Probably the only thing I would have changed is eliminating a flashback of Beatrice and Benedick explaining their animosity, which was just unnecessary. But other than that, Joss Whedon, all of the actors and every other person who contributed to this film did a pretty amazing job. William Shakespeare might deserve some credit too.

Original Author: Julia Moser