Review: ‘Much Ado’ a Crowd-Pleaser

The poster for 'Much Ado', featuring Fran Kranz holding a martini in Joss Whedon's pool.

The poster for ‘Much Ado’, featuring Fran Kranz in a snorkel mask holding a martini in Joss Whedon’s pool.

Much Ado About Nothing | Joss Whedon | June 7, 2013

Last summer, Joss Whedon took everyone by surprise, but that surprise wasn’t the box office-dominating success of The Avengers; it was the news that Joss had gathered a number of his regular cast members and friends to shoot a black-and-white modern-day adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. And it wasn’t a big deal or anything, just that Joss and Co shot the film in twelve days post-Avengers production in secret using the original text. So how does the film fare upon release, over a year after its initial announcement and nine months after its premiere screening at TIFF?

Despite using Shakespeare’s original text – which could be a turn-off for modern film-goers who are unfamiliar with or not a fan of Shakespeare – the film succeeds, thanks to the familiar cast, the physical humor, and the inherent bawdiness in the play.

If you’re a Shakespeare or Much Ado noob, here’s a short synopsis: Beatrice (Amy Acker) and Benedick (Alexis Denisof) are bickering mutual friends or acquaintances, for lack of a better word, who are tricked into believing that they are in love with each other by some of their compatriots during a week of partying at Don Leonato’s (Clark Gregg). Claudio (Fran Kranz) falls for Leonato’s daughter, Hero (Jillian Morgese), and they are set to be wed until Don John (Sean Maher) and his two cronies (Spencer Treat Clark and Riki Lindhome) intercede to emotionally punish Leonato, John’s brother. Tomfoolery, trickery, drinking, bickering, and a bit of debauchery ensues.

Audiences are more than likely to recognize the cast from prior Whedon ventures, namely Buffy/AngelDollhouse, and Firefly/Serenity, but that’s not overlooking Dr. Horrible’s Sing-A-Long Blog and The Avengers. This might play into a Whedon-verse fan fiction-turned-film for some, but, still, the cast is an utter delight. Nathan Fillion as the bumbling and malaprop-stricken Dogberry, the local law enforcement head, is a gem, as is Sean Maher’s conniving Don John. Jill Morgese, in her feature debut (not counting her brief appearance in The Avengers), is pleasant, but has little screen time. Fran Kranz handles Claudio’s emotions well, and Acker and Denisof are a pleasure to watch as a perhaps one-night-stand turned bickering acquaintances turned eventual lovers.

The physical humor stands out in a few scenes, namely the deceptions of Beatrice and Benedick and Benedick’s attempts to woo Beatrice. While not going into detail, it’s reminiscent of slapstick or cartoon humor, what with ridiculous ways of trying to stay hidden in plain sight. The grayscale color palate certainly aids in this comparison. As for the bawdiness, it still traverses the centuries and works for modern audiences (and actors).

While there were minor changes to the script, like adding in a slight back story for Beatrice and Benedick as former lovers (and original music from Joss with vocal assistance from Maurissa Tancharoen and Jed Whedon), the marriage of Claudio and Hero didn’t sit well with me in the modern setting. It’s all well and good that Leonato found a husband for his daughter, but they barely know each other … and then Claudio outright accuses her of being unfaithful at their first wedding ceremony because of subtle hints from Don John without even questioning the situation or inquiring privately.

Regardless, it’s a joy to watch the cast act out Shakespeare in Joss’s home (which, I must add, is quite nice; not fancy and ornate, but nicely decorated and homey), and if you don’t leave the theater with at least a little smile and a bounce in your step, then you might need to re-read or study a little Shakespeare before re-watching Much Ado About Nothing.

Rating: 8.1 out of 10