Much Ado About Nothing

Much Ado About Nothing photo starrating-3andahalfstars.jpgI won’t put on airs. I don’t enjoy Shakespeare. I’ve always found his language ponderous and more suited for study in the classroom than as a pleasant diversion performed in the park. I can appreciate his facility with words, but without the proper context it all just seems so impenetrable. Cue Joss Whedon. The director could scarcely come up with a more divergent follow up to The Avengers than a Shakespearean comedy. The play has been adapted before – notably in 1993 by Kenneth Branagh. It’s one of Shakespeare’s most lighthearted works in fact, as it contains not a single death, although that doesn’t mean the idea isn’t flirted with. Whedon’s contribution is to film the piece in black & white, populate it with attractive Californians, set the action inside his very own stylish home in the present, but have the actor’s speak Shakespeare’s original text without any concessions to 21st century vocabulary or mores. It’s an admittedly odd mix. Akin to an episode of Friends inspired by classic Hollywood comedies of the 30s but spoken in Early Modern English. By and large it works.

I must admit, for the uninitiated the vernacular is a bit perplexing and if you have no familiarity with the play, you’ll be a little confused in the beginning as to where the story is going. There are lots of characters and their names are tossed around without any care for the viewer’s comprehension. You’d be mindful to know the plot beforehand.  Otherwise you’ll be lost as to who they’re talking about. I, unfamiliar with the play, had my arms folded for the first 30 minutes. But as the saga develops, a curious thing happens. A relationship emerges between two couples that had me captivated for the remainder of the picture. It basically concerns four people: Benedick and Beatrice supposedly can’t stand one another. They proclaim it to everyone within earshot. Down with marriage in general, but especially to each other – they affirm. In contrast there’s Claudio and Hero, young lovers deeply in love with love and each other of course. The whole company is portrayed by a talented cast who delivers their lines as if they’ve spoken this way all their life. The dialogue is pretty captivating.

The conversation is witty, the barbs fly fast and free and the whole undertaking has the refreshing wit of a screwball comedy. Yes it’s funny. At times, laugh out loud so. The up-to-the-minute touches at the wedding: Sprinkles® cupcakes, an iPod as DJ, are hilarious embellishments that imbue the drama with a fresh sensibility despite the antiquated codes. That a woman’s virginity is more important than her humanity, is asking a lot for today’s audience to swallow. Still, if you’re willing to accept the Elizabethan morals and language, with contemporary dress and surroundings, you’ll be in for a treat. This is poetry from the Bard that I can support. It’s Shakespeare for people who don’t like Shakespeare.

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What my fellow bloggers had to say:
(If you’ve written a review for this film, let me know, and I’ll add you to this list.)

Best for Film
Cinema Romantico
Cinemaxwell
The Code is Zeek
Coogs Film Blog
Dan the Man’s Movie Reviews
Digital Shortbread
DrMathochist
Evan Crean for Starpulse
film by felix
Let’s Not Talk About Movies
Movies With Markus Online
Nothing is Written
The Popcorn Junkie
Rorschach Reviews

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16 Responses to “Much Ado About Nothing”

  1. Great review Mark, I think there was a little something here and there that was lacking from Whedon’s version that was present in Branagh’s all those years ago, but I don’t think necessarily this is a movie for those who don’t get into Shakespeare; the essence of the original play is very much here, but it’s really really curious to see such a contemporary cast take on the challenge. I was also at first taken aback by how difficult it was to wrap my head around these folks speaking in Elizabethan English. But I think overall this was a tremendous adaptation; especially from Joss Whedon. This film just adds credibility to him, IMO

  2. Good review Mark. It was pretty much made just so that Joss and his friends could get together and make a movie, but it’s still fun to watch because they all seem to be having a ball and not letting all of that easy-going feel to their heads.

    • It did have the relaxed feel of a home movie. That the actors could speak these lines so effortlessly is a marvel. Shakespeare, even a comedy, is not easy to perform. They made something difficult, look as light and breezy as it should.

  3. Great review! Really interested in checking out this one.

  4. Great review, Mark. I’m with you in that I can read Shakespeare and I can appreciate the wit and the brilliant storylines but it’s just really hard to understand when it’s spoken out loud. I haven’t seen the Branagh version but I at least feel like this one would stand alongside it in terms of quality.

    Thanks for the link!

    • You know I think I actually appreciate it better when it’s spoken out loud because the actors give the right inflection, tone and facial gestures to help me understand the words being spoken. I sheepishly admit I have not seen the Branagh version either. I’d love to see it now and then compare the two.

      P.S. You’re my inspiration for posting other people’s reviews on the same page. Not sure if I will continue but I thought I’d give back some love.

  5. If you’re not a Shakespeare buff it definitely helps to know the story going into the film. I’m pretty familiar with The Bard and I’ve read/seen this play, but I still spent the first 15 – 20 minutes getting readjusted to the language and understanding what was being said. The Benedick/Beatrice relationship is a highlight for sure, but so is Nathan Fillion’s Dogberry. I love how they incorporate modern technology into the film (great embellishments like you said) and play with the language for laughs. I think the best part of the film is how Joss Whedon uses his camera to recreate the intimacy of the theater and the actor’s rapport with the audience. The scene where Benedick is running up and down the stairs is the perfect example of this. Great review Mark!

    Here’s a link to my review for adding it to the page: http://www.starpulse.com/news/Evan_Crean/2013/04/30/iffboston_review_joss_whedons_much_ado

    • Nathan Fillion’s Dogberry was a highlight as well:

      “Moreover, sir, which indeed is not under white and black, this plaintiff here, the offender, did call me ass.”

      He was the perfect buffoon.

  6. Could it be that I didn’t care for this movie because I like Shakespeare? Maybe. It just felt like I was watching a college stage play. And that’s not what I go to the movies to see. Yes, there are a few parts that had me smirking, but that initial 30 minutes (I know exactly what you mean) is going to kill this movie for the masses who saw the name Joss Whedon and went running for their wallets.
    VERY Well written review and thanks for the shout out 🙂

    • Actually the more I think about it, the fact that Joss Whedon kept the original language should still alienate Shakespeare haters. For some reason I wasn’t. Go figure!

  7. This started out slow. After a while it picked up and I understood it more. Just ok for me. 3 stars

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