While this is a modern retelling of William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, it stays true to the Bard’s language much in the same vein as Baz Lurhman’s spectacular take on Romeo and Juliet in 1996. Joss Whedon’s script stays faithful to the play and while some characters are condensed, it doesn’t take away from the story at all. I’m a pretty big fan of William Shakespeare’s work, and I absolutely loved the 1993 Kenneth Branagh adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing. It remains my favorite take on the play, but Joss Whedon’s film is still quite lovely and entertaining.
I have a lot of praise to give the cast for being able to give such strong, nuanced performances over the span of only twelve days. It felt as though they had been playing these characters for years and it was quite obvious that they were all having a blast. While I’ve been spoiled by Branagh and Emma Thompson’s chemistry-soaked portrayal of sparring almost-lovers Benedick and Beatrice, Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker did not disappoint me. They’re at their best when they’re exchanging cutting barbs and denying to the world their desire to marry, though some of that intensity is lost when they start making eyes at once another. There are some sweet, grounded moments between the two, but a few attempts at physical comedy instead bordered on absurd.
Buffy alums, Nathan Fillion and Tom Lenk are also marvelous as the bumbling Dogberry and Verges, Constables for the Prince get wind of Don John’s devious deeds. Fillion, especially, garnered the most laughs out of me during his attempt to instruct his watchmen on how to handle thieves and crying babies. Listening to his nonsensical ramblings was definitely a highlight of the film itself.
Sadly, I think the weak link in the film was Sean Maher, who played the Prince’s brother, Don John. His villainy felt a little forced and stale. I felt like the always amazing Riki Lindhome, who played Conrad, Don John’s minion and lover would have been more interesting in the role. At one point in the film, he declares that he is a villain, but it felt less about emotion and hatred for his brother, and more like he was making sure we all knew it, just in case it wasn’t obvious.
While I really loved the setting, I wasn’t really sure what the purpose was of shooting the film in black and white. I’m sure there was a legit reason behind it, but I don’t think there was any artistic merit to doing so. I think I would have preferred to watch the movie in color, as the black and white seemed to cheapen the production value a bit.
Whedon balances the humor and more dramatic moments with ease, avoiding what would have been quite an abrupt tonal shift in the hands of someone else. I enjoyed Much Ado quite a bit and if you’re a fan of Shakespeare (or Whedon, I guess), this is definitely one to watch. I’m just not entirely sure it’s one worth repeated views.