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Much Ado About Nothing (2012)
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by Eric Lefenfeld

"Once More, With Pentameter"
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2013 SXSW FILM FESTIVAL: Joss Whedon takes on Shakespeare with a stable of his veterans, and the results are just as cute as one might expect. The film is as light as a cloud, but the joy that went into every step of the process is ever-present, and that goes a long way.

Joss Whedon is the perennial underdog. Joss Whedon is one of the most successful filmmakers of all time. Both of these statements are equally true. It's this comfortable co-existence, this unwillingness to sacrifice his own authorial voice in the face of the blockbuster machine that turned The Avengers into one of the most successful movies ever. In the wake of that film's massive success, Whedon had, both literally and figuratively, a whole world at his fingertips. As the unifier of the increasingly vast cinematic Marvel Universe, he could easily have dove directly back into the comic book sandbox or taken on any number of high profile projects. Avengers 2 is not far off, of course, but Whedon, never one to abandon his own personal vision, instead decided to scale things back a bit, because sometimes you just need to invite some of your good friends over to the house and shoot a fun, little Shakespeare adaptation in the backyard.

Fun-- that's the operative word in describing Whedon's newest lark. At first glance, this might seem like a departure, but he really is not stepping too far out of his wheelhouse, wisely choosing to adapt one of the Bard's breezier works. Richard III or Hamlet, this is not. Perhaps he chose this play because the storyline, in which a group of aristocrats conspire with and against each other, share tragic and funny misunderstandings, and, for the most part, fall in love over the course of a few days, so closely mirrors the context in which the movie was filmed (less than 2 weeks of shooting at Whedon's own palatial digs). The lighter tone is a good match for Whedon's sensibilities, and it fits right in with an oeuvre that has always been characterized by a potent mixture of pathos, menace, and full-on goofiness. "Joss-speak," as his uniquely quippy dialogue has come to be known, is not exactly iambic pentameter, but it's given him plenty of experience in successfully wrangling dialogue that has it's own unique cadence.

Whedon delves into his deep bench of former players to fill out the cast, mostly using actors that have appeared in The Avengers and his past TV shows. The friendship and comfort that exists within the group is palpable, and the actors throw themselves into the project with an unguarded gusto. Honestly, if Whedon had sat this group in lawn chairs and let them read the phonebook to one another, one could still find some level of enjoyment just in seeing them bounce off one another in an environment in which they're all comfortable. This, however, should not imply that everyone went into this project half-assed. Whedon is smart enough to know that Shakespearean dialogue isn't for everyone , and he wisely chooses those that seem to have the smoothest grasp to do most of the heavy lifting. Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker (doing absolutely nothing to alleviate Nerd Nation's collective crush on her), are particularly charming as Benedick and Beatrice, the feisty pair that continually try to resist the pull they feel toward one another. Their roles run the gamut of emotions, a potentially incongruous mixture of sarcasm, tenderness, and comedic pratfalls, but they both manage to pull it all together into a pair of genuinely touching performances.

The film takes place in the present day, but cutesy anachronisms are thankfully kept to a minimum. There a few touches here and there, namely a small acknowledgement that some of Shakespeare's racial terminology might be a bit outdated, but it's never overly intrusive. Everything is shot in black and white, perhaps to further emphasize that sense of timelessness. The technical details never call huge attention to themselves, but the party montages that break up the dialogue look quite lovely, and the monochromatic photography amplifies that wine-fueled, ethereal feeling that comes with attending a lavish gathering in its waning hours.

Ultimately, Much Ado About Nothing is far from essential, mostly a palate cleanser between bigger films that will probably never be mentioned alongside such landmark achievements as Buffy or The Avengers. It's definitely a treat for rabid Whedon fans to see some of their favorite actors interacting with one another in a fresh context, but for the uninitiated, this is just a more-than-passable Shakespeare adaptation.

Much Ado About Nothing might be slight in the long run, but it's still a uniquely personal vision from one of the biggest names in Hollywood, and it should be admired for that alone. The film is far from a masterpiece, but if it's indicative of Joss Whedon deciding to take the Soderbergh route and continue to create his own little oddities in between blockbusters, then more power to him.

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originally posted: 03/10/13 14:54:34
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2012 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 South by Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2013 South by Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 Independent Film Festival Boston For more in the 2013 Independent Film Festival Boston series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 Sarasota Film Festival For more in the 2013 Sarasota Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 Maui Film Festival For more in the 2013 Maui Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

1/06/14 Ozzy Great, entertaining adaptation of a classic, amusing and involving 4 stars
3/11/13 Juan Sam The trailer looked amazing for this. Nathan Fillion, Clark Gregg & Joss together is great! 5 stars
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  07-Jun-2013 (PG-13)
  DVD: 08-Oct-2013

  14-Jun-2013 (12A)

  DVD: 08-Oct-2013

Directed by
  Joss Whedon

Written by
  Joss Whedon

  Nathan Fillion
  Amy Acker
  Clark Gregg
  Alexis Denisof
  Ashley Johnson
  Sean Maher

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