Joss Whedon (“The Avengers”) directs an expressive contemporary adaptation of the classic William Shakespeare comedy, “Much Ado About Nothing,” while respecting its literary roots, while Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof deliver eye-catching lead performances.
The governor of Messina, Leonato (Clark Gregg), is visited by his old friend Don Pedro (Reed Diamond) who is in high spirits after returning from a victorious campaign against his rebellious sibling Don John (Sean Maher). Accompanying Don Pedro are his two fellow officers: Benedick (Alexis Denisof) and Claudio (Fran Kranz). During their time in Messina, Claudio falls for Leonato’s daughter Hero (Jillian Morgese), while Benedick engages in verbal sparring matches with her cousin Beatrice (Amy Acker). The budding romance between Claudio and Hero prompts Don Pedro to arrange with Leonato for a marriage.
In the days leading up to the wedding ceremony, Don Pedro, with the assistance of his friends, also attempts to sport with Benedick and Beatrice in an effort to trick the two into confessing their feelings for each other, having noticed the dynamic between them. Meanwhile, Don John plots against the happy soon-to-be-wed couple, resorting to his own style of deception to try and crash the marriage before it starts.
What follows next is a series of comic and tragic events that threaten to prevent the two couples from finding true happiness. But against all odds, perhaps love stands a chance of prevailing.
What stands out the most in “Much Ado About Nothing” is the clarity of its language. The dialect may be outdated, but Whedon’s direction instills it with a modern sensibility that renders it more understandable, all while the Shakespearean essence is retained. As a result, the dialogue has a lively energy that neither loses focus nor disrespects its author. Even the soliloquies by Benedick and Beatrice make sense!
I think Whedon’s choice to incorporate a minimalistic setting and color scheme was a wise one, given how much it benefitted the cast performances. By using a single location and shooting in black-and-white, he is able to establish greater emphasis on the actors’ emotions, thereby creating a lighthearted, yet sincere observation of love that most films never succeed in achieving.
The cast did a wonderful job bringing their Shakespearean characters to life.
Much of the acting is reminiscent of classic Hollywood screwball comedies (e.g., “His Girl Friday”) and the delightful quirkiness never feels inappropriate or over the top. In addition, I couldn’t help but notice the screenplay’s touching wit, which contains flavors of another equally entertaining stage comedy, “An Ideal Husband.”
One doesn’t need to be a deep thinker to realize the cast experienced much joy and freedom when filming “Much Ado About Nothing;” the enthusiasm is apparent in their onscreen interactions.
Amy Acker delivers a sassy performance as Beatrice, exuding a fiery independence capable of holding its own against the opposite sex. She navigates her scenes with little difficulty and overcomes the challenges posed by Alexis Denisof without shaking; it’s as if she were a natural at tackling Shakespeare. Speaking of which, Denisof displays considerable charm and wit in his role of Benedick, demonstrating confidence in his ability to avoid falling in love with a woman. Even when he loses his beard, there’s no mistaking that charisma of his.
Fran Kranz excels as Claudio, and Jillian Morgese brings an understated grace to Hero. Clark Gregg’s easygoing interpretation of Leonato is a welcome presence, as is Reed Diamond’s striking elegance during his scenes as Don Pedro.
Nathan Fillion enjoys immersing himself in Dogberry’s finicky approach to handling all matters related to law and order. Sean Maher, clad in a jet-black suit and defined by his dark eyebrows, is believably manipulative in his role of Don John.
Those who take pride in watching William Shakespeare’s plays come to life on the big screen will find “Much Ado About Nothing” to be right up their alley. But even if you aren’t a fan of the famous playwright, this contemporary take on one of his most well known works cannot be ignored.
MPAA rating: PG-13 for some sexuality and brief drug use.
Running time: 1 hour and 47 minutes
Playing: Landmark Hillcrest