Joss Whedon Assembles a Charming Version of Shakespeare’s Much Ado
Posted on August 2, 2013
In the midst of a busy schedule after putting together The Avengers, Joss Whedon managed to section off twelve days to film his adaptation of William Shakespeare’s comedy Much Ado About Nothing. The version brings a modern and American update to the British play that allows the viewers to not only understand but also immerse themselves in the witty lines.
Search online and you will find Whedon’s affinity for Shakespeare having hosted readings of the bard’s work at his house over the years. Any why wouldn’t a modern-day wordsmith admire the original master of verse? It’s not a surprise he chose Much Ado About Nothing as the text to film as it’s full of the back and forth banter between man and woman that translates across the ages.
It’s situational comedy at its best, and Whedon gets to dip into his vast stable of go-to actors to pull it off. Having Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker play the leads Benedick and Beatrice not only gives the best lines to two of his strongest, it also fulfills a love story for those who remember their relationship as Wesley and Fred in Angel. The whole movie centers around the banter of these two who balance both the comedy and romance well.
Choosing Sean Maher as the villain Don John did more than just use his looks for evil. Maher plays the villain with relish, and stands out as the awful instigator. But a bolder casting was using Riki Lindhome, half of Garfunkel and Oates, as Conrade. Casting the role of one of Don John’s closest confidante as a girlfriend helped to underline the war between men and women in the text.
Many have given justified accolades to the comedic turn of Nathan Fillion as the bumbling Dogberry with the aid of Tom Lenk as his sidekick. In one the Nerd HQ panels at SDCC this year, Fillion said it was the best payoff for just two days work. But he wasn’t the only cast member who managed the comedy. Clark Gregg as Leonato, father of Hero, has some of the more subtle laughable moments as does Reed Diamond as Don Pedro.
The love story between Claudio and Hero is well played by Fran Kranz and Jillian Morgese. It is Kranz’s snorkeled face on the poster holding the drink that sets the tone for the modern but not too serious take on Shakespeare’s play. Their love story is the center of the movie and represents young and innocent love as a foil to the older and slightly bruised love of Benedick and Beatrice. It could be easy for the young lovers to get lost in the great cast, but Kranz and Morgese give strong performances that make us cheer at their reunion at the end of the movie.
For a Whedon follower, it did take me out of the movie a couple of times at the beginning of the film as I recognized all the beloved actors as I approved or questioned his casting choices. But within fifteen minutes, I forgot their other work and enjoyed the ride. Although filmed in artistic black and white, the movie does not take itself too seriously, and always remembers that it is a comedy. We’re not only allowed to laugh, we enjoy the frivolity.
One of the biggest stars of the film is the setting. Whedon presents everything coming together, falling apart, and the reassembling using his own beautiful house. Having the action happen in one place not only pays homage to the stage where the play would have been performed but also frames the importance of timing – both good and bad – in beautiful containment. The cherry on top is the music that includes lyrics by Shakespeare but beautifully played and sung by Jed Whedon and his wife Maurissa Tancharoen, both major contributors to Whedon works with more music written by Whedon. Where does the man get the time?
It’s hard to present Much Ado About Nothing in a new way. Many remember Kenneth Branagh‘s version with his then wife Emma Thompson. For those who have access to Digital Theatre, there’s the hysterical stage version with David Tennant and Catherine Tate available for streaming. Whedon’s version updates the play without taking anything away from the original. In some ways, his visual eye candy provides new comprehension to a fun comedy. The film deserves the Much Ado being made about it as an outstanding indie flick of the summer, and a well received addition to Whedon’s repertoire.