Much Ado About Nothing

Film Title: Much Ado About Nothing

Director: Joss Whedon

Starring: Amy Acker, Alexis Denisov, Nathan Fillion, Clark Gregg

Genre: Comedy

Running Time: 107 min

Fri, Jun 14, 2013, 00:00

   

Having just directed the third most successful film in history, The Avengers, Joss Whedon could be forgiven for retiring quietly to the hot tub for a spell.

Clearly a man who knows not how to rest he, in fact, spent his downtime knocking together a funky, attractive version of a mid-period Shakespeare comedy.

Mind you, Much Ado About Nothing does still feel like a souvenir from a very civilised house party. The economically budgeted, monochrome film is almost entirely shot in Joss’s lovely Santa Monica home. The cast is drawn from the stock company that fleshed out Whedon productions such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dollhouse and Firefly. It looks as if they had a lovely weekend.

Much Ado is a brave choice: Shakespeare’s tragedies, featuring more violence, less complex plots and fewer impenetrable Elizabethan puns, are easier to flog to hitherto unconverted contemporary audience. Mind you, there’s more sex in the comedies.

Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof take on the key roles of Beatrice and Benedick, the volatile couple whose squabbling has echoes in so many romantic comedies. All sorts of confusions and contortions are set into motion when Don Pedro (Reed Diamond), a Spanish Prince, returns home triumphantly from battle. A masquerade ball takes place. Weddings are plotted and undermined.

The actors speak the prose – and occasional outbreaks of verse – with impressive confidence. Nobody feels the need to drop into any cod sonorous rumbles or flighty aural flourishes. The coolness of the delivery fits comfortably with the suave austerity of the Californian architecture.

But the picture doesn’t feel fully thought through. Such a modern- dress production needs to find a contemporary hierarchy to echo that of the princes and counts in Shakespeare’s play. In Whedon’s version, the aristocrats become modern politicians: limousines disgorge them; photographers follow their every move. Power flows through the corridors. Yet there is little sense of divine right.

Such problems are sure to emerge when a film-maker sets
out to shoot Shakespeare on a limited budget. This Much Ado is competently acted and – though
cut by a third – lucid throughout. But it never fully rises above the status of a pretty doodle. A tad more ado would, come to think of it, have been greatly welcomed. This is merely M’eh Ado.