Saturday, June 22, 2013

Movie Review: "Much Ado about Nothing"

Joss Whedon, meet William Shakespeare.

The pairing of the creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Firefly (and director of The Avengers) and the Bard of Stratford-on-Avon seems unlikely, but it's tremendously successful. And there are no vampires, zombies, or superheroes in the movie, although for Whedon fans, there are many familiar faces.

Much Ado about Nothing is one of my favorite Shakespeare plays, full of manipulation and sass and splendidly written lines about love, jealousy, betrayal, and revenge. Beatrice (Angel's Amy Acker) and Benedick (Angel/Buffy's Alexis Denisof) are clearly meant for each other; you can see it in the way they verbally spar, hurling insults and pretending they're insulated from ever falling in love. When Benedick arrives at the home of Beatrice's uncle, Leonato (a sly Clark Gregg), along with his companions, Don Pedro (Reed Diamond) and Claudio (Fran Kranz), he and Beatrice immediately begin attacking each other with painfully humorous barbs that cut a little too close for comfort.

Claudio is immediately besotted with Leonato's daughter, Hero (Jillian Morghese), whom Don Pedro promises to woo on Claudio's behalf. But Claudio and Hero's relationship is challenged by the manipulations of Don Pedro's angry brother, Don John (Firefly's Sean Maher). When John's first try at fomenting jealousy and discontent fails, the plot thickens as a second scheme becomes more complex. But meanwhile, Leonato, Claudio, Don Pedro, Hero, and two maids are determined to manipulate Beatrice and Benedick into falling for one another, with humorous results.

The entire movie was shot in black and white, and filmed at Whedon's home. Although the characters speak Shakespeare's words faithfully, they do so in a setting—and using props—that are somewhat anachronistic. I didn't feel this took away from the movie at all, although some diehard Shakespeare fans may find these items distracting.

I enjoyed the movie a great deal. Acker and Denisof's chemistry is terrific and they play off of each other nicely. The relationship of Hero and Claudio didn't seem as fully-formed, and Kranz does more brooding and pouting than anything else. Maher is in fine form as Don John, although you don't truly understand all of his enmity toward his brother, and his part seems almost truncated. Diamond and Gregg also turn in strong performances, plus there's a brief appearance—both amusing and slightly distracting—from Nathan Fillion (of Castle and Firefly fame).

At times, the movie drags, but for the most part, whenever Denisof and Acker are onscreen, their dialogue and chemistry ignites everyone around them. If you're a fan of Shakespeare and/or well-acted movies, I'd definitely recommend you see this. And afterward, find yourself a copy of the 1993 film adaptation, which starred Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson (while they were married). Despite an unsurprisingly wooden performance by Keanu Reeves, this, too, is a tremendously enjoyable film worthy of your time and attention.

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