Birds do it, bees do it, even Kenneth Branagh did it back in 1993. And now, coming off of the action-blockbuster bonanza that was “The Avengers,” Joss Whedon has modestly adapted the Shakespeare comedy “Much Ado About Nothing” for the screen.
For those who aren’t familiar: “Much Ado About Nothing” is a classic Shakespeare comedy filled with hijinks and deception. Benedick (Alexis Denisof) and Beatrice (Amy Acker) have a complicated relationship, in which they renounce the concept of love and engage in a “merry war” of witty banter.
While awaiting the nuptials of Beatrice’s cousin, young Hero (Jillian Morgese) to Benedick’s friend Claudio (Fran Kranz), their friends mischievously decide to get Beatrice and Benedick to admit their feelings for each other. But there’s trouble brewing underneath all the merriment, and soon the group finds themselves on quite the emotional roller coaster.
However timeless the work may be, “Much Ado About Nothing” hinges on a lot of aged Shakespearean elements. Between the unfamiliar language and values, it would be easy for modern audiences to feel too alienated by the text, no matter how quick the banter. Whedon’s work is often grounded in his own linguistic style, but by opting to stay true to the original Shakespearean dialogue, he still manages a stylish and uncluttered update that makes an archaic story more palatable to film-goers.
Whedon creates a more sultry interpretation, rife with humor, nuances, and a jazzy soundtrack, adding in a few elements of his own to make the laughs land and lovers’ pride real. Shot in black and white, the film has a modest but elegant tone, enhancing the modern scene-setting but still allowing the dialogue to shine on its own.
And shine it does, thanks to the delightful cast of Whedon veterans. Acker and Denisof are impeccable in their stubborn banter, injecting real sensuality into the bard’s tale. Nathan Fillion is brilliant as the bumbling but assured Dogberry, reimagined as a tough-minded but buffoonish detective.
The performances aren’t perfect, however — these aren’t seasoned Shakespearean actors — although they come close. The film was shot in only 12 days entirely in Whedon’s house, and the simplicity shows. It doesn’t reinvent the text, but it wears its oddly appropriate time shift respectably.
“Much Ado About Nothing” feels a lot like seeing an intimate Shakespeare in the Park performance with some Whedon favorites. Audiences are more up close and personal than they might usually be (an aspect of film Whedon plays to his advantage to portray the couple’s intimacy), and the film is accessible to Shakespearean scholars and laypeople alike.
More than anything else, the movie is fun. It’s clear that Whedon and his cast think highly of the bard and his work, and their energy is what brings the movie to life. As a film, “Much Ado About Nothing” might not bring much to the table. But as an adaptation, Whedon’s take on the bard is brimming with enough comedic and clever chemistry to make sure audiences care a lot about nothing.
The verdict: It might not be thought of as the definitive “Much Ado” adaptation, but it brings life and a modern twist to the classic tale.