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Friday, October 11, 2013

Review: Much Ado About Nothing (Joss Whedon)

From Buffy to the Bard – Joss Whedon's Post-Avengers Party

By Chris Sabga

Release Date: June 7, 2013 – U.S.
Rating: PG-13
Genre: Comedy, Romance, Drama
Running Time: 109 minutes
Director: Joss Whedon
Writers: Joss Whedon, William Shakespeare
Cast: Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, 
Nathan Fillion, Clark Gregg, Reed Diamond, 
Fran Kranz, Jillian Morgese, Sean Maher, 
Spencer Treat Clark, Riki Lindhome, 
Ashley Johnson

Joss Whedon takes on William Shakespeare in one of the most fascinating adaptations of the Bard's work. If you're a seasoned "Whedonite," he has assembled a dream team of actors from his other projects: Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Nathan Fillion, Clark Gregg, Reed Diamond, Fran Kranz, and Sean Maher will all be familiar to fans of "Buffy," "Angel," "Firefly," "Dollhouse," and "The Avengers." But even if you're not well-versed in the "Whedonverse," his shows are always impeccably cast.  However, going from vampire slayers and space cowboys to the immortal words of Shakespeare himself is a big leap – even for Whedon, who is one of the best writers working on television and in the movies today. How does he fare with a lady so fair?

Whedon's interpretation of "Much Ado About Nothing" is both classical and modern. It's a black and white film that takes place in the present day using Shakespeare's original Elizabethan-era language. It's a strange, exciting combination of elements. But does it actually work?

The first few minutes are admittedly distracting, as familiar faces from Whedon's troupe of actors – such as Clark Gregg and Amy Acker – speak to each other in the famous Shakespearean tongue while wearing contemporary clothing and walking around a Mediterranean-style home. It's a jarring juxtaposition. It takes time to get used to.

Then everything clicks, and you can't help but be swept away by the grand, masterful language and wonderful, endearing performances.

For the uninitiated, "Much Ado About Nothing" tells the tale of two great loves: the quarreling Beatrice and Benedick (Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof) and the young, smitten Claudio and Hero (Fran Kanz and newcomer Jillian Morgese).

Leonato (Clark Gregg) is Hero's father and Beatrice's uncle. Don Pedro (Reed Diamond) comes to visit them, along with two of his officers, Benedick and Claudio.

Don Pedro is embroiled in a feud with his brother, Don John (Sean Maher).

The wicked Don John enlists Borachio (Spencer Treat Clark) and Conrade (Riki Lindhome) for some nefarious trickery.

The services of Dogberry (Nathan Fillion), a bumbling constable, are eventually needed.

Anyone who has ever read or seen Shakespeare knows that the English of 1623 bears very little resemblance to what is written and spoken today. Yet, that challenging dialogue rolls off the tongue effortlessly for all of Whedon's actors. Even more impressively, their facial expressions tell just as much of a story as their words.

Acker and Denisof are especially delightful to watch. They bring a light, playful touch to their bickering characters. One of the highlights of the film is a back-to-back sequence where the two of them sneak around to spy on each other's conversations. In the grand tradition of broad screwball comedies, they dodge, weave, and hide to avoid being seen.

All in all, Joss Whedon and his cast never take themselves too seriously. It's apparent that they're all having the time of their life, and that enthusiasm is infectious. Therefore, it comes as no surprise to find out that Whedon and several of the actors he's worked with – including Acker and Denisof – would gather around to recite Shakespeare in their spare time for fun. After the grueling "Avengers" shoot, Whedon cancelled a trip with his wife – at her urging – to turn those private readings into a reality by finally filming "Much Ado About Nothing." Shot in only 12 days, he called it the best "vacation" he's ever taken.

It's a vacation for the viewer too: a vacation from the usual clich├ęd drudgery that permeates so many of today's movies.

Joss Whedon's interpretation of "Much Ado About Nothing" is a magical experience that is sure to satisfy everyone from the hard-nosed queen in the balcony to all of the groundlings in the cheap seats.

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