Saturday Cinema ~ Much Ado About Nothing (2012)

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File:MuchAdo.jpgMuch Ado About Nothing (2012) – Directed by Joss Whedon, Starring Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Fran Kranz, and most of the rest of the Whedon Universe.

Yesterday, we trekked up to Scottsdale to watch Much Ado on the only screen where it’s showing in the Phoenix metro (at the moment, that I know of; here’s hoping for a wider release later in the year). Much Ado About Nothing is my favorite Shakespeare comedy. Joss Whedon is one of my favorite directors.  There was no way I wasn’t going to like this movie.

Filmed on location in his home during a break while editing Avengers, Whedon puts together a pretty good film. Shot in black and white, it exchanges the Italian providence of Messina for a palatial Santa Monica home. The house’s architecture and the surrounding property is put to excellent use. I was amused by how many early scenes were shot in the kitchen. After all, isn’t that were most parties end up? The adaptation mostly pulls off a modern setting while retaining the language of the play in a slightly abridged version. Don John and his cronies arrived zip-tied. Why? It doesn’t matter. Shakespeare never explains either aside from Don John being “a plain-dealing villain,” played with proper malevolence by Sean Maher.

Beatrice and Benedick’s past is more explicitly illustrated to give their current sparring more weight. This mostly works. I found Alexis Denisof’s Benedick a little uneven. His shift from lady-killer to love’s fool is maybe too extreme. Both Kenneth Branagh and David Tennant (in the adaptations I’ve seen) give Benedick a more inherent ridiculousness that makes the character’s shift more natural. I have to give Denisof credit though for doing his Act 2, scene 3 soliloquy while on a morning jog.

In general, Whedon’s adaptation is less jolly than Kenneth Branagh’s 1993 film or Josie Rourke’s 2011 stage adaptation (available through Digital Theatre). Denisof and Amy Acker have some nice physical comedy moments, but other than the eavesdropping scenes, they are both somewhat staid. Nathan Fillion’s Dogberry is the most reserved I’ve seen; I could have done with a touch more 80s super-cop from him and Tom Lenk as his sidekick Verges. The standout of the cast for me was Clark Gregg’s Leonato. Without even a on-stage, but mostly non-speaking wife/mother (like in Rourke’s presentation), Gregg’s Leonato and Jillian Morgese’s Hero have an us-against-the world feel about them; that maybe Leonato was wronged by his wife, leaving him to bring up his daughter as best he could. When Hero is accused, Gregg’s Leonato is first disappointed and then angry, and it’s this disappointment that breaks Hero’s heart. At least that’s my take on it. It could be that I’m indulging in a little to much extra reading into the performance.

This is the most Wheadon-y Shakespeare possible. All of Joss Whedon’s TV series contain labyrinthine and melodramatic love stories and that’s what Much Ado About Nothing has in spades. While it’s not may favorite adaptation of the play, I enjoyed myself.

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7 thoughts on “Saturday Cinema ~ Much Ado About Nothing (2012)

  1. Much as I enjoy Whedon and, like you, this is my favorite of Shakespeare’s plays, I cannot drum up the enthusiasm to go spend money on it. I watched the trailer and personally found it lifeless. But for my enjoyment it would be hard to top Branagh’s version. It is funny and romantic and showcases Shakespeare’s quick wit and brilliant wordplay. Whedon’s probably does the same thing, but there you go. The cast is great and I know one day I’ll end up watching it, but your assessment reads like it would hit where my expectations are and so for now I’ll probably give it a pass.

    1. I was just now talking to my husband about the differences and I remembered how well edited and well paced the Branagh version is. By far, it’s a better made film. Even including Keanu Reeves. But I’m still doing penance for Iron Man 3. As cheesy as it sounds, I’m trying to “vote with my money.” While Whedon’s film isn’t the best Much Ado, I’m glad it exists and I wouldn’t mind more.

      1. Yes, there is the Reeves factor to consider. He was beyond wooden in Much Ado.

        I understand the ‘voting with your money’ argument. Although I loved Iron Man 3.

      2. I was probably disproportionately disappointed in Iron Man 3. I was on the fence about it and it ended up annoying me with a little too much wanton destruction. I’ll probably rewatch it eventually and be okay with it.

      3. So is there where I chide you for expecting comic book movies to *not* have wanton destruction? 🙂

        For the most part I feel like I’m over comic book films, but lately they suck me in by being surprisingly entertaining (Avengers, Iron Man 3) and so I end up in line to plunk down my money for the next one.

      4. I know, I know. I guess I had hoped that given the line about “everything being different after New York” that Iron Man 3 would break from the formula a little more. Ben Kinsley was nearly worth the price of admission though.

  2. Pingback: Saturday Cinema ~ Why I Liked The Lone Ranger | The Writerly Reader

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