I have to admit that going into this film I was not expecting to like it. I simply dislike modern day Shakespeare adaptations that keep the language. Updating the stories is great, and gives us films like 10 Things I Hate About You, but keeping the old time dialogue always jars for me. I hated Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet. I have also been falling steadily out of love with Joss Whedon over the past few years. I enjoyed some of Dollhouse, but it wasn’t in the same league as his previous shows. I found The Cabin in the Woods funny but unoriginal, just a good beer and crisps flick, while The Avengers is a jolly good way to spend a couple of hours but, again, little more. In spite of these reservations, however, I was won over by this cute, funny and charming little film. Let us talk upon it further!
Don Pedro, along with his underlings Benedick and Claudio, returns from a successful campaign and is invited to stay at the house of Leonato. Leanato’s neice, Beatrice, has an ongoing campaign of her own with Benedick, an exchange of witty barbs that covers a strong attraction. Claudio, meanwhile, is taken with Leonato’s daughter Hero, and asks for her hand in marriage. Don Pedro proposes to win Hero’s hand for Claudio, and the scene is set for all sorts of confusion and intrigue, with Don Pedro’s scheming bastard brother, Don John, stirring up trouble from the wings.
Whedon films this classic, ripe set-up with a pleasant simplicity. I have long dreamt of attending one of the Shakespeare reading sessions he hosts for his actor chums, and in this film I feel that he has captured something of the magic that must abound therein. Filmed in his own house in the break he took between filming and editing The Avengers, Much Ado is very much the antithesis to that explosive picture. Here words are king, and emotion their vessel. It is very, very fun. Not forgetting the bawdy nature of Shakespeare’s comedies, Whedon paints everything in a faintly ludicrous hue, lurching between wry humour and slapstick antics. This high and low dynamic is pure Shakespeare, and carries across well. I’m not quite sure what inspired Whedon to film one scene in a swimming pool, but it’s brilliant.
Everyone is going to have their favourites from the cast, composed almost entirely of members of Joss Whedon’s unofficial rep company; I enjoyed Clark Gregg (Agent Coulson from most of the Marvel Universe films and recently headlining Agents of SHIELD) and Reed Diamond (Mr Dominic from Dollhouse) as Leonato and Don Pedro respectively. Sean Maher (Simon Tam from Firefly) didn’t have much to do but gave a nice turn as an oleaginous fiend, while Fran Kranz (Topher in Dollhouse) was touching as Claudio. Nathan Fillion (Mal from Firefly) appears and fillions for a while, which is always nice. The highest praise must surely be kept for Amy Acker (Fred in Angel), who quite literally throws herself into the role of Beatrice and ably captures her complicated character .
And what fares poorly, in my humble esteem? Well, on a personal note, I do find it difficult to listen to American actors doing Shakespeare; their accent is too harsh and just inappropriate for the words. In this respect I find it especially hard listening to Alexis Denisof (Wesley in Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel) – as an actor I can’t fault the man, and his Benedick is a great match for Acker’s Beatrice, but transatlantic living has made him sound very odd. Tom Lenk (Andrew in Buffy) is quite weak in a supporting role, showing less comedic ability than he does in that Pepsi Max advert he’s in. Otherwise this is a very well performed and put-together piece, all the more impressive for the short time it took to make.
A final note of praise for the music – Joss Whedon himself contributed, along with his brother Jed and Jed’s wife Maurissa Tancharoen. This latter couple provide the most delightful rendition of Shakespeare’s poem ‘Sigh No More’, which underlines the action beautifully and has stuck with me. We’ll let you listen for yourselves!
Pleasantly surprising and surprisingly pleasant, this is crowd-pleasing Shakespeare. Hats off to Mr Whedon and company for making it work, and for keeping it so funny. Now go forth and enjoy it, and hey nonny nonny.MP