If I had been introduced to Shakespeare like this, I might have actually paid attention in High School.
That's pretty much what I tweeted right after seeing Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing, a modern take on William Shakespeare's play. I've never read Much Ado About Nothing, or any of Shakespeare's other comedies. I've only read a few of his tragedies (Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Julius Caesar), and those were required reading in High School, so not exactly something I was terribly invested or interested in. I don't think I've even seen that many movies based on the works of Shakespeare.
I mainly saw this because I'm an admitted Whedon fanboy. I've heard various members of the cast talk about this on various podcasts over the past year, so I was curious to see a modern take from a writer/director that could give it that spin that might hold my interest. I also found it fascinating Whedon filmed this over a 12 day period in his own home (nice house, by the way), relying on actors whom you'll mainly recognize from other Whedon projects. I affectionately call them the "Whedon Players".
I'm not even going to attempt to give a plot synopsis. You can read about it here.
Much Ado... took me a bit to get into. Since it's been a while since I've read Shakespeare, it was a little jarring to hear the Shakespearean style of speaking. They also spoke really fast at times, and despite that it's English, I still had to do a translation in my head. I could have used some subtitles. Even then, there were times where I had no idea what they were saying, but I could at least catch the meaning from the tone. I had to really pay attention to keep up. I'm not saying it was work to watch Much Ado About Nothing though. I kind of equate it to how you have to get used to reading subtitles in a foreign film, and then after 20 minutes or so, you just kind of absorb them. Lastly, I was seeing this at my favorite theater, Vine Cinema in Livermore (www.vinecinema.com), so that means beer was in the mix while watching.
I found the story engaging and funny. It's actually very funny in parts, particularly when Nathan Fillion shows up. I wasn't sure what to expect going in, but it's really a story of love and sexual politics that has all kinds of subtleties and nuance about it.
I was impressed with many of the performances. Aside from Nathan Fillion humorous performance, I got a real kick out of Alexis Denisof as Benedick. He seemed a little effeminate at times, but I guess it's hard to look super masculine reciting Shakespearean lines. Clark Gregg was great as well. He's a rock, and I can't wait to see him in the upcoming Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Fran Kranz surprised me the most as Claudio. I always see him playing nerdy types or stoners, but he really helped carry the film in one of the main romantic roles. Lastly, I also really loved Amy Acker as Beatrice. She's mainly stuck to TV, but I've never understood why she hasn't been bigger in film. She's such a cutie pie. Maybe with recent roles in this and Cabin in the Woods we might get to see a little more of her on the big screen. She seems like a good fit for a rom-com.
What can I say about Joss Whedon at this point? He has such a knack for telling a story in a way that hits all the right notes and is entertaining. Is there any genre or style he can't do? Another nice touch was his choice of filming this in black and white. It helped keep things simple and focused on the characters and dialog. It's the second movie I've seen this month that was filmed in black and white (the other being Frances Ha, which I'm still trying to write my review for), and it worked for both of them.
Much Ado About Nothing is a modern take on a classic Shakespeare comedy that really was a blast to watch. It's lively, fun, and you don't need to be a big Shakespeare buff to get something out of it. This is one the best movies I've seen all year and look forward to watching it again soon.
4.5 (out of 5) Death Stars