Monday, July 8, 2013

Movie Review: "Much Ado About Nothing"

As always, this review will contain spoilers. But you really oughta read a summary of the play before you see the movie, so that's not a real problem here.

The other night, I had the opportunity to see Joss Whedon's new take on Much Ado About Nothing at the Michigan Theater (which is always the best place to see any movie, but it's especially perfect for Shakespeare). Whedon's little vacation between shooting and editing "The Avengers" was a lot of fun to watch, and I liked the homey, down-to-Earth feeling of the set and the cast. The movie was filmed entirely in the Whedons' own house, so it feels very personal and intimate. The fact that the cast are all actors who Joss Whedon has worked with in the past makes it seem more like a family reunion or a summer holiday at a friend's lakehouse than the big, sprawling spectacle that normally constitutes a Very Important And Serious Shakespeare Film.

There were parts where I felt like it kinda went on for a long time, though that might've been because I didn't get the chance to reread the play before seeing it (it was kind of a spur-of-the-moment decision). Familiarizing yourself with all the funny-sounding names and knowing the overall shape of the plot in advance can make all the difference to your enjoyment of the movie.

When I first realized that Sean Maher (Simon Tam from Firefly) would be playing the role of the wicked Don John, I had my doubts about his ability to really be a mean and underhanded jerk. But he handles the role better than I expected: rather than Keanu Reeves bombastic Saturday-morning cartoon villain in Kenneth Branagh's 1993 adaptation, Maher goes for a soft-spoken, understated sleaziness that's all the creepier for how quiet and emotionless it is.

A pleasant surprise: Nathan Fillion shows up two-thirds of the way through the movie playing a Sergeant Dogberry who has clearly made extensive use of the donuts in the police station break-room. He delivers the role with charm and unconscious wit, blundering through his malapropisms without having the slightest idea that he's just made an ass of himself.

I also liked that in Whedon's adaptation, Claudio is not a complete douchebag. Make no mistake, it is a terribly cruel thing to publicly accuse your fiancé of fornication on the altar at your own wedding, but the scathing words of Claudio flow more from hurt and betrayal than from a desire for vengeance. And that makes it much easier to like him, and to feel that his ending up with Hero is a happy ending, rather than entirely undeserved.

And of course, Benedick and Beatrice are (as always) the true stars. Their endless backbiting and witty repartee include all the best lines in the movie, possibly in all of Shakespeare's oeuvre (I'll give you ten points if you use that word in conversation correctly). The way they each flail around at the possiblity that the other might return their feelings are two of the funniest moments in the movie: Benedick listens-in on his bros while trying desperately not to be seen, dodging across the landscape like a low-rent Navy SEAL; Beatrice falls down a flight of stairs at the mention of Benedick's affection for her, and hides under a kitchen counter to eavesdrop on her girlfriends as they discuss her inability to open up emotionally. It's great stuff, and watching young lovers fumble at expressing (and failing to express) themselves is the very stuff of comedy.

So yeah, a good time was had by all. Go see it, have fun. Take your date with you: they'll think you're super-smart if you read the synopsis on Wikipedia beforehand and explain what's going on when they ask.

P.S. Film students remember: filming your movie in black-and-white will automatically make it classy.

1 comment:

  1. I just saw it last night! Fortunately, I didn't have to explain it to my date because he has seen the Kenneth Branagh version. :)