Joss Whedon may have become one of the most talked about directors in the world for The Avengers, but he also won critical acclaim for his low-budget Shakespeare adaptation Much Ado About Nothing.
The film, out now on Blu-ray, is a difficult Shakespeare play to adapt. It has comedy, romance, a bit of violence and drama. The tonal shifts present a challenge for a director and screenwriter, especially one working with little more than one location for his entire film. On top of that, I usually find Shakespeare film adaptations to be flat. The Bard’s dialogue and scenes are written specifically for the stage, and film just can’t bring the liveliness or appropriate sizzle these stories need.
Whedon manages to overcome both of these obstacles. Perhaps it is because he simplified the film to a small cast and small production, or perhaps it is because he seems to be on a mission with this film to exclude any and all things that are not the actors and a camera. He may have been rebelling a bit against the giant Hollywood system he worked within to create a massive hit like The Avengers.
For those unfamiliar with the source material, Much Ado About Nothing is about two sparring lovers named Beatrice (Amy Acker) and Benedick (Alexis Denisof). The two ignore their attraction to one another by verbally challenging one another and going on and on about how love and marriage simply aren’t in the cards for them.
Surrounding the two are a cast of friends and family also dealing with the tribulations of love and the secret loathing of one very angry guest.
Whedon shot the movie in black and white and almost entirely in one location. The basic nature of the film whether it be the backdrops, camera work or even the colorlessness makes Much Ado About Nothing sparkle. The actors at Whedon’s disposal bring this movie to life. Everyone manages to make the dialogue roll off their tongues wonderfully and after about 30 minutes, you’ll ignore the strangeness of Shakespeare dialogue and think that this is the way people talk today (the film presumably takes place in modern day).
The standouts in the cast are the two leads (Acker and Denisof) as well as Clark Gregg, who gives probably the best and most engaging performance in the film despite having the least juicy role. The rest of the cast is filled with Whedon regulars like Nathon Fillion (who is very funny), and they all give their characters life and intrigue.
Besides the cast, Nothing succeeds because Whedon shows some real skill as a director (not something I think he displayed with The Avengers). Whedon couldn’t control that Marvel movie. The script called for serious moments, but the film couldn’t rise above its adolescent humor and intelligence and geekiness.
Nothing is a different story. The movie is dramatic, hilarious, sad and sexy. The shifts come often and Whedon makes them all work. You’ll laugh about as many times as you grab the arm to your chair in suspense.
The special features for the Blu-ray edition include a director’s commentary, a couple of features and a music video, so it’s worth a buy if you’re a Whedon fan.
Much Ado About Nothing is a charming and gripping venture for Whedon, proving you don’t need hundreds of millions of dollars and big studios to make a great film. Most of the time you just need a fantastic story, a passion for film and a talented cast and crew. Much Ado About Nothing has all of that and more.