Joss Whedon’s adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing (2012) probably isn’t great Shakespeare — I’m not really much of a judge on that subject — but it is clever guerilla film-making, and a good deal of fun, especially for fans who’ve been tracking Whedon’s career and have grown attached to his stable of actors.
For those unfamiliar with the play, it’s basically about a bunch of people, some of whom like each other (I mean not just like, but like-like), but they don’t always know if the person they like likes them back, and when they all get together to spend some time in a Santa Monica mansion, they go about trying to set each other up, or break each other up (because, you know, some of them aren’t so nice), and make a mess of things before everyone winds up happy. So that in the end, not much would have happened if it weren’t for all those complicated misunderstandings. It’s basically an erudite precursor to a Three’s Company episode. (Which I’m pretty sure is exactly what Shakespeare intended.)
Seriously, I’m not a natural fit for Shakespeare, but Much Ado About Nothing is a pretty fun play once you wrap your ears around the unique rhythms of the dialogue. Whedon’s shotgun interpretation is audacious in the execution, even if it takes a while to find its legs: the early scenes feel stilted and uncomfortable. But it ramps up nicely later as the plot escalates, and the middle of the film is quite effective, especially once the fireworks start between Beatrice (Amy Acker) and Benedict (Alexis Denisof). Acker is superb throughout, clearly comforable in this milieu. Denisof is pretty fun, too, if a bit less sure-footed. The two of them definitely have a comfortable chemistry, and fans of Angel will enjoy seeing them together again. Other standouts in the cast for me were Reed Diamond (Don Pedro) and Nathan Fillion (Dogberry). Not every decision works, and not every actor nails it. But considering the haste with which it was made, it’s surprisingly successful, and a great deal of fun — perhaps more for Whedon’s fans than Shakespeare’s. I liked it.