+ Recommended – PG-13, Comedy, Drama, Romance
Joss Whedon’s modern take on Much Ado About Nothing, a classic Shakespeare play, feels awkward and frankly, sometimes dull. While Whedon sacrifices the classical time-period, he uses a black and white filter to dial down the modern setting; luckily it isn’t grainy, and we can clearly see what’s happening on-screen; this might lend towards the dullness of the overall story.
It’s obvious that the film takes place within the last few years but without the use of cell phones, it would’ve been hard to determine the exact year. Whedon used his own home for set of the film and I couldn’t help but think that the film had a lower budget, other than the actors that appear in this adaptation. Spatially, Whedon effectively uses his house for tracking shots as the audience follows the characters as they move from room-to-room. In a few shots, Don John (Sean Maher) and his loyal sidekick Borachio (Spencer Clark) look down upon the others; showing their attitude towards everyone else.
Some character interactions feel unnatural and their line delivery doesn’t always seem believable; Stand-outs being: Alexis Denisof as Benedick and Amy Acker as Beatrice. However, Nathan Fillion (Dogberry) and Fran Kranz (Claudio) shatter any immersion I had in the story. That’s not to say that you can’t cast certain actors in these classical roles, rather, directors should be cautious when casting and need to cast the best choice for the role, not just base their casting decisions on who appears in their other properties. Nathan Fillion and Fran Kranz are both common actors in Whedon properties (Cabin in the Woods, Firefly, Dollhouse). Nathan Fillion’s comedic chops fit the character of Dogberry well enough but he seems to always be playing a shade of himself.
Rearrangement of the dialogue and other various scenes weren’t the primary focus for Whedon, instead he focused on the literal play text. With one exception: Conrade played by Riki Lindhome, is introduced as having an affair with Don John and has a significant role in showing the relationship between Don John and Borachio. Borachio observes the two of them as they have sex, and this reinforces his motivations for ruining the marriage between Claudio and Hero; he desires that same interaction with Hero. Nothing else significantly changes from the play text and that will most likely keep audiences focused on the storytelling aspects and not break their engagement. However, other adaptations include a diverse cast while Whedon’s version veers away from that, showcasing a white cast; just something to think about.
Of the other adaptations I have seen, Whedon’s version seems like the weakest. Possibly due to the setting and the casting or maybe due to the play text. Unlike the others plays, I felt less interested in the story of Hero and Claudio. There are no real stakes within the story and that ultimately lead for my focus to shift towards the actual actors which broke my immersion. That’s not to say that Whedon’s adaptation is bad, because his overall use of space within the setting and the camera work by Jay Hunter are effective in propelling the story forward and shedding light on certain character motivations; particularly with Don John and Borachio.
All the reasons I mentioned for being unengaged might make this the best version for modern audiences to view if they are unfamiliar with Shakespeare and his literature; mainly the cast and the modern-day setting. I’m curious to know how people who are unfamiliar with Shakespeare feel about this movie. Much Ado About Nothing does solidify its place in the catalogue of Shakespeare adaptations. Albeit, it’s possibly the weakest version out of the batch I have seen.