Scott, we just finished watching Much Ado About Nothing, Joss Whedon’s Shakespearean side project.
(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)
I’ve always wondered what a “do” is. Now I know.
Whedon’s Much Ado is Shakespeare’s classic play performed in a modern setting – but still using the Bard’s own words. We’re introduced to Benedick (Alexis Denisof) who is back from war. He’s accompanied by friends Don Pedro (Reed Diamond) and Claudio (Fran Kranz). Claudio is quite taken with young Hero (Jillian Morgese), a fair maiden. But there is trouble afoot. Hero’s cousin, Beatrice (Amy Acker) apparently has had a relationship with Benedick in the past, and she is done with men.
While Claudio and Hero make plans to marry, the illegimate brother, Don John (Sean Maher), bitterly plots to sabotage the relationship by making it appear that Hero has cheated on Claudio. At the wedding ceremony, Claudio exposes Hero’s alleged infidelity to everyone, causing Hero to faint. Hero’s family decides to make it appear that she has died, and meanwhile the truth of Don John’s evil plot is exposed, causing Claudio great heartache.
You’re right, Greg. Neither one of us is a Shakespearean scholar, but we do appreciate the timelessness of a good story. I admire Joss Whedon’s bold foray into new territory that is as different from Cabin in the Woods as a story can get. Whedon clearly demonstrates his versatility, as he pulls off a very stylish modern rendition of one of the Bard’s best comedies. This wasn’t easy to do, as we all know how beautiful yet dense Shakespearean English is. As you note, Whedon’s excellent casting helps us along nicely, as the characters convey meaning and nuance with terrific nonverbal cues and facial expressions.
Much Ado About Nothing is filmed in black and white, an interesting artistic choice that I applaud. It gives the comedy an edginess that I believe is warranted by the dark streaks within an otherwise light love story. For modern audiences to appreciate this film, Whedon made two brilliant casting decisions in Amy Acker as Beatrice and Alexis Denisof as Benedick. I may be going out on a limb here, but I strongly suspect that Acker and Denisof will garner Academy Award nominations for Best Supporting Actress and Best Supporting Actor, respectively. The set design was also outstanding; there is brilliant use of windows, stairways, landscaping, and lighting throughout the film.
Nathan FIllion also makes for great comic relief as Dogberry – the buffoonish security guard. From the hero perspective there is a lot to appreciate here. Benedick undergoes a transformation from the confirmed bachelor to offering to lay down his life to defend the honor of Beatrice’s cousin. Young Claudio and Hero are the young lovers. Don John is the villain. The classic hero structure is well in place. You could hardly expect less from Shakespeare.
I’m totally with you, Greg. Much Ado About Nothing is a gem of a movie that tugs at our heartstrings and cannot help but make us smile. The film has a touching energy to it thanks to sparkling performances by a talented young cast. Joss Whedon took a big chance here and it pays off handsomely. I give this film 4 Reels out of 5.
As you note, we have a nice ensemble of heroes who display great range of emotion and handle the challenge of Shakespearean English with style and dexterity. Their hero journeys aren’t in the same league as, say, Hamlet or King Lear, but nor are they meant to be. As they stand, I give this great group of young lovers 4 Heroes out of 5.
I think I was more favorably impressed than you were, Scott. This is the most accessible Shakespeare that I’ve ever seen. It was wonderful to look at and to listen to. I give Joss Whedon’s latest project 5 out of 5 Reels. I also think that when it comes to classic heroic stories, Shakespeare wrote the book. I give Much Ado 5 out of 5 Heroes.