TIFF 2012: MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING Review

     September 9, 2012

much-ado-about-nothing-amy-acker-alexis-denisof-slice

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 FiennesCoriolanus), 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 of fancy costumes or complex staging, 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.

Much Ado about Nothing is a romantic-comedy based on deceptions both playful and malevolent.  Shot in black-and-white and set in the present day, the story concerns Don Pedro (Reed Diamond), his officers Claudio (Fran Kranz) and Benedict (Alexis Denisof), and Pedro’s devious brother Don John (Sean Maher), coming to visit the home of the governor of Messina, Lenato (Clark Gregg).  There they find Lenato’s sweet but plain daughter Hero (Jillian Morgese) and his sharp-tongued niece Beatrice (Amy Acker).  Claudio becomes smitten with Hero, and Don Pedro wishes to play the matchmaker, so the bitter Don John attempts to embarrass his brother by sabotaging Claudio and Hero’s budding romance.  Meanwhile, Beatrice and Benedict continue to snipe at each other through witty war of words until the supporting players trick the pair into believing they have feelings for each other.

much-ado-about-nothing-amy-acker

Among Shakespeare’s work, I enjoy Much Ado but it’s not one of my favorites.  It’s a schizophrenic piece linked by common actions of different intents.  Love is no match for deception, but you get two stories: one is a bit of a melodramatic tale of two romantics the Don Pedro is trying to turn cynical, and two cynics that their friends are trying to turn into romantics.  There’s a mirror, and a connecting theme, but I get annoyed by the Claudio/Hero tale.  It’s so overwrought, the characters are so dumb, and there’s nothing interesting about their relationship.  But the Benedict/Beatrice story absolutely crackles.  They have some of Shakespeare’s sharpest barbs, and in the hands of the right actors, they characters are electric.

In the hands of Denisof and Acker, the characters are electric.  Everyone in the cast knows their Shakespeare, and while Morgese and Kranz are able to make Hero and Claudio tolerable, we always want to get back to Benedict and Beatrice.  In the modern age, Shakespeare relies heavily on its cast to translate his words, and so there’s a greater emphasis on delivery and body language.  Whedon has always had the confidence to give the screen over to his actors, and here that confidence is essential to why Much Ado works.

much-ado-about-nothing-nathan-fillion

Even though the cast are speaking someone else’s words, Whedon remains a master of dialogue.  He knows its timing and flow, and how it can spark and crackle.  It’s why the Benedict and Beatrice scenes are so much fun, and why Nathan Fillion and Tom Lenk almost steal the movie as Lenato’s buffoonish constables (re-imagined as security guards) Dogberry and Verges, respectively.  They make us want Zombie Shakespeare to rise from the grave, and give the bumbling duo a series of spinoff plays.

Whedon’s knack for comedy is why the farcical stuff works the best.  He dotes upon his actors’ pratfalls, and it’s an absolute joy to watch Benedict try to overhear Claudio, Leanto, and Don Pedro’s leading conversation.  Without his own words, Whedon weaves around Shakespeare, and my only complaint is that the director lacks the budget and stronger material.  The limitations still allow Whedon to have fun (like having Benedict daydream about Beatrice in a little girl’s bedroom), but I can only imagine what he could accomplish with a little more money and a play like A Midsummer’s Night Dream.  Whedon may not have the bard’s words, but he’s totally worthy of bringing them to the big screen even if it’s on a small budget.

Rating: 8.1 out of 10

For all of our TIFF 2012 coverage, click here.  Here are links to all of my TIFF 2012 reviews:

Around The Web

Latest News

Heavy Metal Brings Barry Geller and Jack Kirby’s “Lord of Light” Prints to Comic-Con

Check out some exclusive Jack Kirby-inspired prints and find out how you can get your hands on them!

Welcome to Comic-Con 2015: Check out 25 Pictures from the Convention Center

Take a look at some posters for 'LEGO Dimensions', 'Fear the Walking Dead', 'Game of Thrones', and more.

Watch MAGIC MIKE XXL’s Joe Manganiello Play “Save or Kill”

Which would you save? ‘Star Wars’ or ‘Star Trek’? Han Solo or Indiana Jones? ‘Game of Thrones’ or ‘Breaking Bad’? Watch as Joe Manganiello is forced to choose.

Travis Cluff & Chris Lofing Discuss the Found Footage Inspiration for THE GALLOWS

The young filmmakers reveal the writing process and ghost stories behind the upcoming horror film.

Collider Movie Talk – Henry Cavill Talks MAN OF STEEL 2, INSIDE OUT Wins Box Office

On today's episode of Collider Movie Talk, the crew discusses Cavill's thoughts on when we'll see Man of Steel 2, Inside Out taking the #1 box office slot, the boxing movies trend, and more.

Netflix Sets Premiere Dates for BEASTS OF NO NATION, PEE-WEE, and More Original Films

The streaming service will release four original films over the next year.

GHOSTBUSTERS Set Photos Reveal Melissa McCarthy in New Uniform

We've seen the cast, we've seen the suits, and finally it has all come together.

Enter Our Giveaway and Win a Roku 3, Now with Viki Free Streaming

Enter to win a Roku 3, now equipped with hundreds of hours of free international TV programming.

STAR WARS: Phil Lord and Chris Miller to Direct Han Solo Movie

The only director(s) who could make this idea interesting will be bringing it to fruition.

Will Darth Vader Pop Up in STAR WARS ANTHOLOGY: ROGUE ONE?

The spinoff could feature the live-action return of the iconic character.

Page 1 of 4,03112345...102030...Last »