Synopsis: A modern retelling of Shakespeare’s classic comedy about two pairs of lovers with different takes on romance and a way with words. (Source)
Life and love are a mixture of opposing yet complimentary feelings: excitement, confusion, liberation, disaster and ultimately magic, to name a few. Very few people are capable of showcasing these feelings as seamlessly and hilariously as Joss Whedon. In his anachronistic retelling of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, he’s created the ultimate love letter to the Bard, effortlessly highlighting what makes the author’s writing so timeless, enchanting and vibrant. Filmed secretively with a micro budget in the middle of The Avengers‘ hectic production schedule with Whedon’s best friends, the film is a labor of love, showcasing a genius at play. It’s light on it’s feet, endlessly charming, and will make you fall in love again for the first time.
For those unfamiliar with the story, it’s a madcap genre-bender centering around the lives of a family, it’s friends and their romantic misadventures. The story centers around a governor named Leonato (Clark Greg), his daughter Hero (Jillian Morgese) and her cousin Beatrice (Amy Acker). When Leonato’s friend Don Pedro (Reed Diamond) returns to visit him after winning a war, his two generals, Benedick (Alexis Denisof) and Claudio (Fran Kranz) quickly find themselves smitten with the two women by Leonato’s side. Both romances play out in completely different ways however, with Claudio and Hero immediately confessing their love for one another, while Benedick and Beatrice engage in a battle of wits, eventually leading to some delightfully misguided matchmaking. Of course, without a true villain in the mix, things would be far too easy. Enter Pedro’s bastard brother Don John (Sean Maher) who can’t help but ruining the happiness of others. After a sinister plot is put into play, what should’ve been a raging party turns into wild ruckus that spans the whole range of human emotion with comic proportions.
Over the course of the story’s events, no stone is left unturned, leading to healthy doses of gleeful romance, mistaken identity, sibling rivalry, betrayal, death and ultimately redemption. There’s no doubt in my mind that Whedon was born to tackle the Bard, and he does so with confidence and wild-eyed enthusiasm. While the Shakespeare influence is no stranger to Whedon’s previous work, seeing the director return to the source with a harmonious triumph of riotous situations and fun is utterly refreshing. Flying by with an electric pace, Whedon’s wit and command of Shakespeare’s anachronistic dialogue is a manic joy, allowing Whedon to add some clever visual juxtapositions and situational gags while the black-and-white photography lends a sophistication to the entire affair. Somehow taking the romantic comedy back to it’s roots, the film offers up boundless amounts of charm, with Whedon perfectly channeling the Bard on his own terms and never becoming an empty facsimile or losing sight of the source material’s true essence.
With a story based on character, nothing here shines more than Whedon’s pitch-perfect casting and the camaraderie of his of his faithful ensemble. Fans of Whedon will instantly recognize the rogue’s gallery of players from the every era of the director’s career spanning Buffy, Angel, Firefly, Dollhouse, The Avengers and more. Something I’ve always admired from Whedon is his ability to pick genuine and sincere actors who are naturally radiant and full of emotional honesty. This is no better articulated than by Amy Acker’s Beatrice, who pretty much steals the show. She’s deliciously complicated, endlessly charming, fierce, sassy or hysteric at the turn of a switch. A starring role’s been long deserved for the effervescent actress and in this film she finally gets her due. Alexis Denisof’s Benedick is the perfect counterpoint for Acker’s character; arrogant, romantically inept and providing the latter’s twisted attraction with a manic rivalry. Nathan Fillion as the bumbling detective Dogberry is as hilarious as ever while Fran Kranz (a personal favorite) conveys Claudio as the tragically naive and hopeless romantic that he is. Clark Gregg’s patriarchal nature as Leonato provides the perfect foundation for the cast while Sean Maher’s Don john is tragically ruthless. In truth, every single person in the cast deserves a mention, but that could be an entirely different article.
Most of all, Much Ado About Nothing feels like a celebration of life and all of it’s most intoxicating contradictions and truths. The joy, happiness, poignancy, tragedy are all here and delivered with a renewed sense of purpose and passion that’s sadly missing from most films nowadays. Much Ado represents utter joy; it’s personal, precisely chaotic and most of all uplifting.
Crome Rating: 4/5