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Much Ado About Nothing: Brilliance In a Week

By Meredith Alloway · June 10, 2013

After director Joss Whedon wrapped The Avengers, the third highest grossing film of all time, he was contractually obligated to take a week vacation. But instead of pulling a Clooney or DiCaprio and lounging off the coast of Italy, he turned to Shakespeare.

He and his producer, who is also his wife, Kai Cole planned to adapt Much Ado About Nothing. In 12 days they would shoot the beloved comedy in a gorgeous one-setting mansion, which was also their home. It’s no surprise the entire cast is phenomenal. The only way to pull of a project like this would be to fill your team with talented and hard working members; many of which are Whedon’s closest friends. Perhaps the film is so enjoyable because the unmatched chemistry among the characters is in fact based in reality.

The story plays out like a classic Shakespearean comedy, with love mix-ups and mayhem. Leonato (Clark Gregg), governor of Messina, has welcomed an array of officers into his home. Among them are friend Don Pedro (Reed Diamond), his brother Don John (Sean Maher), Benedick (Alexis Denisof) and the young Claudio (Fran Kranz). Soon enough Claudio befalls cupid’s arrow and the beauty of Leonato’s daughter Hero (Jillian Morgese). Seeing that they are a perfect match, Don Pedro urges Leonato to arrange their marriage.

Meanwhile the true love story blooms between Benedick and Hero’s cousin Beatrice (Amy Acker). Beatrice is immodest in her annoyance with Benedick, “You always end with a jade’s trick: I know you of old.” There is a hint of romance in their past, but it’s clearly turned sour since. Seeing their folly as an opportunity for scheme, Pedro, Claudio and Leonato plan to make the two foes fall in love.

But every romance needs its antagonist, and here the evil brother Don John plots with his guests Conrade (Riki Lindhome) and Boracio (Spencer Treat Clark) to prevent Claudio and Hero’s union. Luckily two cops watching over Leonato’s home, Dogberry (Nathon Fillon) and Verges (Tom Lenk) see the villains in their trickery, but can the two reveal their discovery in time to prevent love’s destruction?

When Shakespeare is adapted to film, there’s always the fear that the language will either be lost, or preserved but devoid of any audience understanding. There’s Baz Lurhmann’s Romeo and Juliet, which molds the original text to its liking like putty, or Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet, which is incredibly loyal but also requires an extreme attention span and devotion from its viewer. Luckily, Whedon’s Much Ado about Nothing falls happily in between. The majority of the actors are experts in their verse delivery. The speech from Don Pedro, when first introducing the Benedick love scheme to Claudio and Leonato, is particularly praise worthy. Acker and Denisof are equally as at home in the text, illuminating words written over 400 years ago; making it as natural as modern speech. During the press conference for the film in LA, Whedon was open about the fact that the film depended on his two leads; they were his first choice actors. Seeing their masterful portrayals of Benedick and Beatrice, balancing humor and also the empathetic qualities of the characters, it’s clear why they were first choice.

There’s also a subtle wit that runs through the film. Often Shakespeare comedies can bash you over the head with the hilarity, and make the truth seem altered and fake. But Whedon roots all the jokes in pain, where the best comedy always comes from. Benedick and Beatrice, as well as the story line between Hero and Claudio are actually quite sad. But we never linger there for long. A beautifully shot scene, when Beatrice and Benedick finally proclaim their love for one another, is set similarly to the balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet. Beatrice speaks down to her lover from above the outdoor stairs, reminding us we are in fact watching a romance. Clever Moments like these prove Whedon’s true mastering of the text.

The interactions between Dogberry and Verges cannot go ignored. They’re side splitting. Although Fillon has admitted in the past that he was intimidated to work on Shakespeare, his scenes are some of the best in the film. It’s amazing that the writing can still all these years later ring so true, of course that’s when put in the hands of a qualified director.

At the press conference when asked what it was like working with Whedon, Fillon joked, “I don’t want to say Joss Whedon is the Shakespeare of our generation. It’s true, but I don’t want to say it.” Denisof adds, “I’ve been saying Shakespeare is the Joss Whedon of his generation.” Their claims may be exaggerated, but it’s undeniable that Much Ado About Nothing is a worthy adaptation.