Joss Whedon’s “Much Ado About Nothing”: A fresh approach to Shakespeare

much ado about nothing colorIt would be hard to compete with the 1993 adaption of “Much Ado About Nothing,” starring British legends Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson, but I was gripped by Joss Whedon’s modern adaption of the Shakespeare classic. Much like Baz Luhrmann’s “Romeo + Juliet,” it was refreshing to see the thick, traditional prose presented in an edgy, contemporary setting.

“Much Ado” was filmed in black and white, capturing softly lit exchanges between characters. While I was disappointed with Luhrmann’s recent adaption of “The Great Gatsby” because it was too lavish and filled with obvious references, Whedon created subtle balance and humor, which really enriched “Much Ado,” a tale also exhausted from being retold over and over.

For those who aren’t familiar with Shakespeare’s most beloved comedy, the tale resides in the Italian town of Messina. The governor Leonato (Clark Gregg), is visited by his friend Don Pedro (Reed Diamond), who is accompanied by two of his officers: Benedick (Alex Denisof) and Claudio (Fran Kanz). While visiting Messina, Claudio falls for Leonato’s daughter, Hero (Jillian Morgese). The two are engaged to be married by the end of the week.

Benedick and Hero’s cousin Beatrice (Amy Acker,) resume the war of witty insults from years past. Leonato, Don Pedro, Claudio, Hero and her handmaid Margaret plot to trick Benedick and Beatrice into falling in love. Denisof and Acker’s performances were hilarious, as both jump from absolutely hating each other to being head over heels in love. They didn’t quite reach Branagh and Thompson’s exalted success from the 1993 adaption, but their performances matched the flavor of Whedon’s film.

Conflict arose in the form of Don Pedro’s illegitimate brother, Don Jon (Sean Maher) who has decided to disrupt everyone’s happiness. With the help of his companions Borachio and Conrad, he feigns an affair to slander Hero’s innocence in Claudio’s eyes.  Borachio and Conrad are overheard discussing Don Jon’s scandal by local authorities and are brought to Dogberry (Nathan Fillion) to pay for their hand in the crime.

“Much Ado” was filmed in a 12-day period at Joss Whedon’s own home. The cast may be familiar, but there are no ‘A-List’ actors. However, I feel this adds to the strength of the film because the characters become more relatable and the entire story feels more honest and organic. The spirit of rivalry and love is truly done justice by everyone in the cast. The score was sparse, but I think that keeps the audience focused on absorbing the Shakespeare prose and the creative way the film was cut. Shakespeare’s teachings of love and good humor are transcendent and entertaining in Whedon’s modern adaption.