[This is a re-post of my review from the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival. Much Ado about Nothing opens today in limited release.]
With a few exceptions, William Shakespeare‘s trips to the big screen have been sumptuous affairs. The plays favor an expansive vision by the director, so we get films like Julie Taymor‘s Titus and Kenneth Branagh‘s Hamlet. But one of the many beautiful things about Shakespeare is how flexible it is in terms of setting. You can set it on a modern battlefield (Ralph Fiennes‘ Coriolanus), in a high school (Tim Blake Nelson‘s Othello adaptation, O), or in the case of Joss Whedon‘s Much Ado about Nothing, in an upper-class home. Whedon’s Much Ado is a bold challenge for the director not because his adaptation lacks fancy costumes or production design, but because he removes two of his greatest assets: his dialogue and a budget. Of course, nothing Whedon (or anyone else) could write would surpass the Bard, but it’s an entertaining exercise seeing the director speak only in a visual language, and then having his budget limit what visuals he has available. With no money and another author’s work, Whedon finds his film’s strength in the superb cast, clever staging, and an expert understanding of dialogue.