One thing that I love about Shakespeare is that it is open to interpretation. You can take any of the basic plots to his play to either do a straight up version or adapt it for modern audiences like the BBC did a few years ago with its Shakespeare Re-told series that I really loved.
I have seen many a Shakespeare adaptation on screen and on stage. And I list Much Ado About Nothing my absolute favorite Bard play.
So when I heard that Joss Whedon of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Avengers fame was going to bring another big screen version of this play, I was quite excited.
The film, as we’ve all read, was filmed in 12 day span during Whedon’s break from editing The Avengers and was filmed in his home (and a lovely home it is). The cast is filled with people he has worked with before like Nathan Fillion, Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof and Clark Gregg to name just a few.
The central plot of the movie, which is filmed in black and white, really is about the merry war between Beatrice (Acker) and Benedick (Denisof), two people who were burned by each other but it is clear that they still have feelings for each other. It is up to their friends and family to trick them into falling for each all over again. A subplot revolves around Don John’s (Sean Maher) to ruin the lives of his brother Don Pedro (Reed Diamond) and Claudio (Fran Kranz) that Claudio’s fiancee Hero (Jillian Morgese) that she is unfaithful and to dump her at the alter.
What I felt was lacking in Whedon’s adaption is the comedy of the play. The play’s two funniest scenes should have come in the tricking of Benedick into thinking that Beatrice is in love with him and the scene where Beatrice is tricked into believing that Benedick loves her. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much laughs as I wanted except a brief one where Acker falls down some steps.
The true comedy came from Fillion’s Dogberry, the constable that reveals Don John’s plan to the others.
The problem for me was the pacing of the movie. It was too mellow and not lively. The score, which had a cool jazz vibe didn’t help to elevate the film. I kept on comparing this version to Kenneth Branagh’s version way back in 1993. I fel that movie was way more lively and funnier than this one. I have seen stage versions that were funnier too.
Acker and Denisof were fine was our central couple. There were moments that Acker really delivered some of Beatrice’s more famous lines splendidly but others that I felt she was just saying the lines as if she memorized them. Same goes for Denisof. They also lacked a bit of the banter/sparring that Branagh and Emma Thompson had in their interpretation.
I would say line delivery was the problem with all the actors. I just felt that they were just spewing text they memorized without really understanding their characters motivation.
I will say that Maher made for a better Don John than Keanu Reeves and his villainy was more overt than Reeves.
Finally, what really hurt this adaption is that I felt no real flow happening between one scene and the next; basically the transitional scenes could have been better.
I really wanted to love Whedon’s adaptating but I have seen better versions of Much Ado About Nothing.