Saturday, August 03, 2013

Movie Review: "Much Ado About Nothing" (2013)

Love's Labour's Won.

There's a great deal of love in this movie, and it's not all of the romantic, kissyface variety. This charming version of Shakespeare's beloved comedy Much Ado About Nothing  is clearly a labor of love by everyone in it, beginning with its writer-director, Joss "Lord of the Nerds" Whedon.  Filmed over just 12 days at Whedon's Santa Monica, California, residence, it's a small, intimate project that feels invitingly like a home movie done by a crowd of friends who decided to grab a few cameras, bottles of wine, copies of Shakespeare, and just get together and go for it for the sheer fun of it all.

(That is, by the way, pretty much how it happened.  After Whedon's huge - and hugely successful - Avengers wrapped, he decided to pursue Much Ado About Nothing as a passion project.  Reportedly, he wasn't even sure if it would get a theatrical release but found it fun and liberating to gather up some friends and have at it anyway.  That Whedon would dive into Shakespeare right after playing in the Marvel universe is just one more reason why I love him.)

Much Ado is Whedon's retelling.  While he keeps the original text (with a few minor alterations), he sets the story in the modern day, films it in black and white, infuses it with his musical choices (see too the involvement of his talented brother and sister-in-law), and expands to explicit imagination a hint in the original play about a possible backstory for Beatrice and Benedick.  Remember Whedon's talent for giving us compelling narrative with quirky humor, smart details, and ensemble casts with conflicted, wrangling characters whom we love as individuals too?  It's absolutely perfect for adapting Shakespeare's witty, sassy comedy.

If you are a long-time Whedon fan, the cast will feel just like a group of friends: it's a who's-who of alums from Whedon's many previous projects from Buffy and Angel to Firefly to Dollhouse to The Avengers.  If you have no idea who Joss Whedon is or what his earlier work is, though, it won't detract from the movie, because the cast is delightful: Amy Acker as Beatrice and Alexis Denisof as Benedick give standout performances, as do Clark Gregg as Leonato and Sean Maher as the villainous Don John, but my personal favorite just might be Nathan Fillion, affably buffoonish as the hilariously self-serious, bumbling constable Dogberry.

If I had to quibble about the production, I'd have to say that there are moments when the Shakespearean English doesn't come naturally to some of the actors: they sound as if they are trying a little too hard.  But on second thought, I don't mind.  Remember what I said at the beginning about this film feeling like a home movie?  Consider this the greatest Shakespeare fan film done in recent memory (and perhaps ever).  Other cinematic Shakespeare performances may have more polish, but they can feel over-produced, over-directed.  Whedon's has the undeniable spark of life in it, spontaneity, desire, the sparkle of sheer fun.  The smooth, elegant finish of professionals could do with more of the unbridled enthusiasm of the amateur, the loving fan ... and there is no doubt that Whedon is a fan of the Bard.  I don't know about you, but I'm a lot more apt to forgive imperfections when it's so darn obvious that the creative team unabashedly loves what it's doing and can't wait to share its enthusiasm with anyone who wants to geek out too.  Besides, it is a joy to see Shakespeare happily presented as something for everyone ... because Whedon's movie is no snob.

In the end, gentle reader?  Get thee to a theater!

Much Ado About Nothing runs 109 minutes and is rated PG-13 for some sensuality.

MM gives Much Ado About Nothing a grade of A+.

Rotten Tomatoes gives the flick the Fresh rating of 83%.

Here is the official website.  Here is the trailer:

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