Much Ado about Nothing (2012) review

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A modern retelling of Shakespeare’s classic comedy about two pairs of lovers with different takes on romance and a way with words. -imdb.com

Joss Whedon’s Much Ado about Nothing is Whedon’s pallet-cleansing follow-up to The Avengers, and it achieves this, not just for Whedon, but for the audience as well. The film was shot over 12 days at Whedon’s home, but the quaint location is rarely an interference, and when it is it’s played for laughs. The film sticks with the original dialogue, trimming some monologues and excess conversations, but nothing’s lost in plot or character motivation. Whedon very cleverly turns a couple of the monologues into songs, which are surprisingly smooth and suave, adding to the films atmosphere.

The very hefty Shakespearean lines are carried well by the actors. Now before all the English majors jump down my throat, let me explain. The Shakespearean dialect is that of a stage, it’s grandiose and explanatory of characters emotions. It is extremely out of place not only in film, but especially in modern film. To use this dialogue is extremely difficult, unless you are merely translating the stage version to film, grandiose style and all. This is how most Shakespeare movies have been done, and in particular the works of Kenneth Branagh, who also directed a version of Much Ado about Nothing. The films are colorful, spectacular and while they do use the medium of film to their advantage, they use it mostly to add to the story. Whedon manages to fit the story into the medium of film, turning the larger-then-life stage version into a quieter, smaller, and by default more realistic version, which is what your average movie-goer expects to see from the type of story being told.
The actors treat the dialogue with the greatest of nonchalance, acting exactly as if the words they saying are natural and only occasionally bringing the tropes of stage acting in to accent a few of the jokes that require such. This blend works well, compensating for some of the aimless silliness that makes up the original and has been lost here due to the format, script, etc…

Whedon’s challenge when making this movie was to get you to ignore the location, budget, and dialogue and get you to focus on the characters and what they are feeling. With the help of the aforementioned acting, Whedon also has put this movie out in black and white, giving the film the slightest of a noir feel to it, but not too much so since the movie rarely has black and white lighting to it. The noir feel teams up and even helps the interjected mafia replacement setting feel all the more natural. What the black and white does is it takes your eyes away from the environment and focus on the actors. After all, it’s hard to pay attention to the colors of Whedon’s walls, or expect the vibrancy of a Branagh movie if there are no colors to begin with. What you can focus on is the ever moving Alexis Denisof, whose long monologues are a good example of why parts of this movie don’t work.

Alexis Denisof as Benedict does a great job, with the scenes between him and Amy Acker (Beatrice) having all the chemistry of their days back on Angel. However, during the long monologues he has fussing over his feelings, it gets hard to follow along, mainly due to his inability to hold your attention. This is partially due to his limitations as an actor, but also due to the inability to be as grandiose as Branagh and grab the audience with his presence, which would have been possible in a more stage-like version. It’s times like these when the limited charisma of the actors can’t push the monologues and dialogue in an interesting way, and the film slows down tremendously. However, these scenes are few and far between and easily compensated for by their performances when it comes to the humor.

The humor in this movie is brilliant, mainly for how basic it is. There are plenty of extremely clever gags inserted in, but for the most part the humor is very basic. It still works though, due to how unexpected it is with none of the slapstick or character reactions being what you would expect to see in even a comedy of Shakespeare’s. The actors still pull off the original wit of the dialogue well, but I found myself laughing more at the inserted humor, a testament to Whedon’s abilities to write humor around serious subject matter… or shall we say slightly more serious subject matter. I will not spoil the funnier parts of the movie, but the highlight of the film is most certainly Nathan Fillion and his merry band of police-men. Every scene they’re in has a brilliant blend of the original and new humor, and the movie is worth watching just for that. On occasion the bad guys are overly EVIL, but it’s by no means a betrayal of the original since Jon the Bastard was a mustache twirling fiend to start with.

Overall, Joss Whedon’s Much Ado about Nothing is a wonderfully funny and small film, a perfect pallet-cleanser from the mega-blockbusters Hollywood is rolling out today. It’s spectacular at times, but not overly spectacular. It has a story to tell and it tells it, but with a few stops to smell the roses along the way. Due to this, I’m saddened it doesn’t have a wider release, since I’m sure it would make money (Whedon’s name alone is enough to bump this far above being considered an average independent film), but just not enough as another showing of Iron Man 3, hence no theater chains picking it up.

It’s important that audiences have a light movie, and on top of that, a small one. The Great Gatsby could have benefited from this type of filmmaking, since that story was tailor-made for a slightly higher budget version of this film, but alas it became nothing more then a 3D tye-dye Dicaprio love-fest with a pop soundtrack. For now it seems I’m going to have to settle for crossing my fingers and hoping that Redbox or Netflix will pick it up out of mercy.

I recommend this film to any fan of Shakespeare, theater, dramas, those who hate the average comedy that comes out these days, and of course those looking for something different, but not too risky, to spend some time with. However, I must warn Whedon fanboys and girls to not see this movie purely because of him, because while it has his fingerprints on it, it most certainly is not Buffy saying shakespeare. If it’s at a theater near you, defiantly go and see it, and try to bring as many people as possible, as it’s sure to spark some fun conversation.

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