Geez oh man, you guys, I really dropped the ball on reviewing this one. I told you about the trailer back in April of last year, and I brought you news of its production all the way back in May of 2012, so it’s been a long road. In fairness, I live in a pretty hick town, so I missed the chance to see its very limited theatrical run. Either way, the long wait is over! I finally got my hands on a copy and, without further ado (pun unintended), let’s get down to what I thought.
Before I go any further, I have to come clean that I adore the source play, so my review may be a bit skewed in that respect. It was my first introduction to Shakespearean comedy when I was old enough to understand the humor (watching part of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in eighth grade drama doesn’t count), and it holds a very special place in my heart as such. That said, although I’m going to try to focus more on this adaptation than on any issues in the source material itself for the purpose of this review, it’s probably worth it to explain the plot briefly.
Much Ado About Nothing is originally set in the Italian countryside, and the main players are the sharp-witted Benedick and Beatrice. The two spend all their time together sniping at each other and rejecting the idea that they should ever marry anyone. In a bid to see how true their hatred for each other actually is, their friends conspire to trick both of them into believing the other is in love with them. Needless to say, the line between love and comradely hatred is pretty thin, as they both independently decide that they will requite the other’s fictional feelings. Shenanigans ensue, but in the end, all ends well.
Whedon’s version reimagines the setting as, well, his own home, an airy California house with an abundance of pleasant gardens. As I mentioned in my previous posts, the entire film was shot over the course of about two weeks at said house, and the cast is made up almost entirely of people Joss has worked with before (from Nathan Fillion down to the Waitress of Destiny from The Avengers), costumed in what they could bring with them. And given these constraints, I think it’s a very good film.
One of my favorite things about it was the physicality of the actors. There’s a lot of humor that comes across entirely in the staging, whether it was Benedick doing pushups to impress Beatrice, or his friends fist-bumping when they realize that they’ve got him, hook, line, and sinker. I’m actually a big fan of reintepretations of Shakespeare into modern settings (such as Ethan Hawke’s Hamlet 2000 and the 2008 Broadway run of Macbeth featuring Patrick Stewart—no, I’ve never seen the modern day Romeo and Juliet, so sue me) as I think they both add an extra challenge for the actors and emphasize that the Bard’s stories are still universal and relevant. So seeing Leonato cue up a song on his iPod or the Constable’s crew armed with flashlights and handguns while spouting Shakespearean English didn’t detract from the film for me, although your mileage may vary. Their line delivery was, of course, well done, and did not strike me as too awkward, despite the challenging juxtaposition of hundreds-year-old text with a modern American setting. And Nathan Fillion’s portrayal of the well-intentioned but totally naive and idiotic constable Dogberry was both hilarious and rather reminiscent of another well-intentioned idiot he’s played.
Overall my biggest complaint about the film was the decision to shoot it in black and white. I didn’t hate it, per sé, but overall it didn’t really do it for me. It seemed like a pretentious Instagram filter over an otherwise enjoyable movie. And speaking of black and white, the casting of the film, even if it was from a select few people who were available at the time, was pretty pasty. There were few, if any, characters of color, and none with particularly important roles.
In the end, as far as Shakespeare adaptations go, this isn’t the be-all end-all best thing I’ve ever seen. But it is a fun and funny movie, and if you get a chance to watch it, I encourage you to do so.