“You must not, sir, mistake my niece. There is a kind of merry war betwixt Signior Benedick and her: they never meet but there’s a skirmish of wit between them.”
The Scoop: 2013 PG-13, directed by Joss Whedon and starring Alexis Denisof, Amy Acker, Clark Gregg, and Nathan Fillion
Tagline: Shakespeare knows how to throw a party.
Summary Capsule: Joss Whedon’s modern time set/classic dialogue version of one of Shakespeare’s comedies. This one about two awesome characters falling in love, two blah characters with a huge misunderstanding, and Nathan Fillion playing Dogberry.
Eunice’s rating: “How much longer will it take to cure this Just to cure it cause I can’t ignore it if it’s love”
Eunice’s review: For anyone who doesn’t know the play, and didn’t see the ’93 Kenneth Branagh/Emma Thompson version, here’s the story:
Don Pedro -a prince-, his two comrades -Benedick and Claudio-, and his evil bastard brother Don John -with his evil entourage in tow- have returned from war to Messina (or in this case Santa Monica). Visiting the house of governor Leonato, an old friend of Don Pedro, who insists they stay for a month. They meet Leonato’s daughter Hero, and his niece Beatrice. Turns out Benedick and Beatrice already know each other, and every time they meet they snipe at/banter with one another. Meanwhile, Claudio and Hero take a shine to each other and after some things Leonato agrees to give his blessing to their marrying. With all this wedding bliss going on, and Benedick poopooing all this love talk, all the good guys who aren’t Beatrice and Benedick plot to make them fall in love.
Unfortunately for all, Don John, who really loves being evilly evil, comes up with a nasty plan to derail all this happiness. He enlists one of his cronies, Borachio, in a plan to upset the wedding. What they come up with is Borachio will seduce one of the handmaidens in the household by a window in Hero’s room to make it look like Hero is an unfaithful wanton in front of Don John and Claudio. It hits the fan at the wedding when Claudio accuses Hero in front of everyone, resulting in Hero’s presumed death, Beatrice getting Benedick (the two of whom are now in love) to promise to kill Claudio in revenge, and many frownie faces.
And the fate of all rests on the shoulders of the most inept constable ever, Dogberry, to bring all to light. And he wants me to let you know, he is an ass.
So I’ve been on a bit of a Shakespeare kick lately: It started when I wanted to rewatch Twelfth Night, saw The Tempest after that, been making my way through The Hollow Crown series (starring my Hiddles) which covers Richard II, Henry IV Parts 1 and 2, and Henry V, just watched this -Joss Whedon’s take on Much Ado About Nothing-, and I foresee myself getting my hands on the Shakespeare Retold series.
Twelfth Night is my favorite of the comedies as a whole, but Much Ado comes second as it has three of my favorite characters. Add in Joss Whedon and a lot of his regulars filling out the cast and it was a given that I would see this.
There’s no way I could hide it so I’ll be upfront: I pretty much loved every minute of this film.
The setting is updated fairly well. Don Pedro is some sort of politician, Benedick and Claudio his right and left hands. They, and Don John, are all dressed in sharp suits surrounded by security and photographers. The party scenes play out like old Hollywood. The music is sang by bands or played on the radio instead of minstrels. Everyone is drunk when they come up with the Love Scheme.
The first thing you’ll notice is that it’s shot entirely in black and white. Which is genius and let me tell you why. Usually I’m not a fan of gimmicky, self aware black and white, it is a short list of movies I feel it actually adds something to. Here, it is used smartly. It’s an elegant, simplistic, noir-y (very Dead Again) way to bridge the gap between the scenery and dress and the Elizabethan language, thereby also working to keep the dialogue from coming off as gimmicky. It helps though that the cast speak their lines with the sense that they, ya know, actually understand what it is they are saying. Because there’s nothing that’ll take you out of Shakespeare faster than actors who don’t have any clue what it is they’re talking about, but are just repeating lines.
Being a Whedon fan, this movie was like visiting a lot of old friends, and you’ll find yourself going “Hey! That’s so-in-so!”
Clark Gregg as Leonato is spot on (Is it just me or is there something twinkly about the way he smiles?). He’s so genial that somehow it makes the wedding scene all the more disturbing.
Hero is a role that’s hard to do much with, and when compared to Beatrice is rather dull. Jillian Morgese and Joss Whedon get as much out of the character as I think is possible, and in the “when I was your other wife, and you were my other husband” speech, Hero is given subtle strength. Claudio is still a jealous moron though, there’s no fixing that.
This is the first time I’ve seen Sean Maher as a bad guy, and it took me awhile to get over that. Don John is a villain all in delivery as he has no real motivation. I like Maher here, his innocent face mixed with his cold emotionless evil is creepy as all get out.
I like the way Whedon approaches Borachio. Which I admit I hadn’t entirely picked up on, just a little bit and then going “ah that’s it!” listening to the commentary, and I’m not going to give away. Spencer Treat Clark’s handling of the role is the first one that seems to carry a through line on Borachio’s two sides of villainy and remorse.
Then there’s the subject of Conrade. Conrade is one of Prince John’s lackeys, but Whedon cast Riki Lindhome and, while the dialogue is the same, changed the mechanics of the scene to make her Prince John’s lover as well. While gender switching can be jarring or overused, when done right it can be very clever, not to mention give food for thought about how a character can perform the same action and say the same thing but a change in gender can change the perception. Much like casting Helen Mirren as Prospero/a in The Tempest, in this context in this production it works for me.
The biggest eye openers here for me is Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker. Like I said, Beatrice and Benedick are two of my favorite characters in the canon. (Beatrice and Benedick forevahs!) But Fred and Wesley, while they had their moments, not so much. Denisof and Acker just get it though. The funny bits are just the right balance of over the top or underplayed, the dramatic bits gently intense. To explain: Amy’s “If I were a man.” is rage mixed with frustration and despair as opposed to Emma Thompson’s epic roar rage, and Alexis’ duel challenge is quietly dangerous (and I can’t be the only one who cheers when he smacks Claudio, right?). They have wonderful chemistry together. With the addition of a wordless scene -that I won’t spoil- at the beginning of the movie, presumably taking place before Benedick goes off to battle, a whole new layer is added to their relationship. Alexis and Amy, you’ve won me over.
Then there’s Dogberry. Nathon Fillion’s Dogberry here is the head of community security, with sidekick Verges (former Evil Three member Tom Lenk). I just laughed and laughed. This may be my new favorite Dogberry. His delivery is just amazing. Why must Nathon Fillion make me love him more? Why? And Fillion and Link play off each other very well, and their physical opposites just heighten the humor.
The weak points are inherent to the play: Hero and Claudio (ESPECIALLY Claudio), John’s lack of motive, Pedro and Claudio believing John, and, especially in a modern take, the wedding scene is so uncomfortable. There is one point which I will lay at Joss’ feet, there’s a weird bit of plotting in the movie.
In the play:
Benedick challenges Claudio, truth comes to light without Beatrice and Benedick present, Benedick sees Beatrice to let her know he’s fulfilled his promise which ends with them finding out the news, Claudio sings to Hero’s tomb.
In the movie:
Benedick challenges Claudio, truth comes to light, Claudio sings to Hero’s tomb while Hero and Beatrice look on, Benedick talks to Beatrice about challenging Claudio to the death, then they find out the truth.
It’s a weird sequence of events, originally Beatrice and Benedick are unaware of the arrest of Borachio and Conrad, and therefore are in agreement on the death/shaming of Claudio. It makes no sense if this scene takes place after Claudio has paid penance and everyone has seen him do so.
Much Ado About Nothing is a marvy adaptation. It hits so many right buttons in the right ways. A must see for Shakespeare or Joss Whedon fans. And a you owe it to yourself to see for everyone else.
- The film was shot in 12 days at Joss Whedon’s Santa Monica home.
- The DVD includes a commentary by Joss Whedon and a second commentary by the cast with Joss Whedon
- In the beginning when Don Pedro and crew roll up you’ll see Tom Lenk uncuffing Don John, etc, but no Nathon Fillion. Nathan wasn’t able to come until later due to his commitments to Castle.
- Along with the abridging, including excising Leonato’s brother Antonio, Joss Whedon changed Benedick’s line from Act 2, Scene 3 “if I do not / love her, I am a Jew’ to ‘if I do not love her, I am a fool.'” otherwise he’s true to the text.
- “Many of the actors/actresses have worked previously with Joss Whedon on one or more of his works: Nathan Fillion (Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997), Firefly (2002), Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog (2008)), Amy Acker (Angel (1999), Dollhouse (2009), The Cabin in the Woods (2012)), Ashley Johnson (Dollhouse (2009), The Avengers (2012)), Alexis Denisof (Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997), Angel (1999), Dollhouse (2009), The Avengers (2012)), Clark Gregg (The Avengers (2012)), Sean Maher (Firefly (2002)), Riki Lindhome (Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997)), Fran Kranz (Dollhouse (2009), The Cabin in the Woods (2012)), Tom Lenk (Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997), Angel (1999), The Cabin in the Woods (2012)).”
- Holy crap there’s a lot of booze in this.
- Benedick, “I go away for two seconds to get a drink, and I come back to craziness!”
- Dr. Tam, no! What would Kaylee say?
Read the play. The dialogue’s amazing.
If you liked this movie, try these:
- Much Ado About Nothing (1993)
- The Tempest (2010)
- A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1999)
- The Actor
items for intermission:
1) Joss Whedon is a HUGE Shakespeare fanboy from way back. Until he became so frantically busy being a Geek God, he used to hold Shakespeare readings every Sunday at his house with past and current cast members of his TV shows. This is possibly why several actors in this movie actually know what they’re saying.
2) This movie was shot during a production break of The Avengers; it also coincides with Joss Whedon and his wife’s twentieth wedding anniversary. (pretty sure that’s what the break was originally for) Apparently, they couldn’t figure out where they wanted to travel to for their anniversary, so Fran Whedon suggested that they just use the time to make a movie of Joss’ favourite Shakespeare play instead.
(I don’t know what Mrs Whedon is like IRL, but I think I can safely say that Joss definitely picked the right woman for him!)
3) don’t know about any other countries, but the limited theatrical run in Australia was brought about mostly by the efforts of the Australian division of the Browncoats (a Firefly/Whedonverse fan club).
Personally, my favorite Shakespeare play adapted into a non-Shakespeare setting would be Throne of Blood. It’s a Kurosawa-directed film which could be described as Macbeth with katanas instead of claymores. Then again (if you’ll pardon my use of the old joke), I do prefer Shakespeare’s tragedies because they’re funnier than his comedies.