Joss Whedon’s Thoroughly Modern ‘Much Ado About Nothing’

By David Combest

October 16, 2013

I admit that I was never an admirer of Shakespeare. Like most, I was introduced to the famous playwright in high school and I was too young to grip the themes and workings of his prose. The Romeo & Juliet’ film adaptations, both the 1968 version by Zeffirelli and the 1998 version by Baz Luhrmann were somewhat comical and confusing. 

This being said, I loved Joss Whedon’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s romantic-comedy “Much Ado About Nothing.” The film follows a tale of lovers, an unlikely pair who despise each other and eventually falling in love despite threats to their relationship. If that sounds vague, it should be. It would take away from the story if I disclosed too much information and the movie would lose some of its magic.

The film was shot in twelve days in Whedon’s house while he was also working on “The Avengers.” Whedon also wrote and composed the soundtrack to the film; his brother Jed Whedon performed the songs with Maurissa Tanchareon.  Although this project was shot in such a short time, it is clear this was one that Whedon worked thoughtfully on and held close to the heart. This film is an example of masterful cinematography and directing treated with seriousness despite the quick filming process.

The use of crisp black and white is a nod to the noir films of the 30’s and 40’s and the neo-noir. What’s refreshing about this adaptation is the way in which Whedon depicts the subtle transitions of emotions within the character’s interactions and the empathy he invokes through the use of cinematography.  Shakespeare did have the ability to look into relationships of people and profile them with honesty that has lived on for centuries and Whedon has faithfully depicted this humanity in his recent adaptation.

The cinematography highlights the beauty of the home and imprints many memorable shots within the viewers mind. It makes the audience wish they could take a still of scenes and frame them to put up on the walls within their homes.  The cast is spectacular in their roles. Alexis Denisof plays the older bachelor, Benedick, who never wants to settle down. Denisof is quite funny at his role because of his use of dialogue and physical comedy.

Amy Acker plays Beatrice, who at first despises Benedick for leaving her heartbroken a few years prior when he went off to war. Acker is a joy to watch and she too uses wit as well as physical comedy in her role. It is clear that she is a true talent. Fran Kranz and Jillian Morgese play the doe-eyed young lovers whose relationship tries to be thwarted by certain other characters. Nathan Fillion plays Dogberry, a bumbling buffoon in charge of security who takes himself too seriously.  Fillion steals the show with his humor and shows his range as an actor through the subtle sifts in Doberry’s emotions.

The entire cast which includes Clark Gregg, Sean Maher, Reed Diamond, Riki Lindhome and so many more talented actors shine in this film and should all be congratulated for their amazing work.

The film is more than the play Shakespeare has written. It’s a refreshing modern look into human relationships, sexuality, power and justice. The comedy is strong both in the physical semi-slapstick comedy and the Shakespearean dialogue. The cinematography and directing are jaw dropping and pure bliss to witness. Whedon has shown that he can be a true artist when he works on a project not for the money, but for the joy of filmmaking.  He also co-wrote “Toy Story,” a film that shows he’s a true artist whose films show the depth of human emotion and a film I personally love. “Much Ado About Nothing” is a film that everyone should view at least once, Shakespeare lover or not, it might just find its way into your DVD collection and your heart. “Much Ado About Nothing” was released out on Blu-Ray DVD Oct. 8 and is available on Amazon.