Josh and Violet give their reviews of the movie Much Ado About Nothing, directed by Joss Whedon, which is based on the play by William Shakespeare. The film began its limited release in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York on June 7. It will expand within those three cities on June 14, and is set to release nationwide on June 21 on 200-300 screens.
Much Ado About Nothing is a low budget film by the renowned Joss Whedon. For those not in the know, he directed the blockbuster Avengers, released summer last year, and is known for his sci-fi/drama TV shows such as Buffy, Angel and Firefly. For those unfamiliar with Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing is one of his comedic plays. I am completely unfamiliar with this work, so this movie review of Much Ado About Nothing will come from the perspective of knowing nothing about the source material.
The film has a fairly convoluted storyline, involving several intertwining stories. The interesting, yet hard to understand aspect of this film is that it seems to use much of the original dialogue, but is set in modern times, which is a little jarring at times. The primary focus of the story is the eventual marriage of Beatrice (Amy Acker) and Benedick (Alexis Denisof), who at the beginning of the film are revolted by each other. At the beginning of the film, Claudio (Fran Kranz), Benedick, and Don John (Sean Maher) come to visit Leonato, (Clark Gregg), the owner of a large estate, and they talk about their victories over some battles they have just returned from.
Don John is quickly introduced as the villain of the story, whose goal seems to break up the budding relationship between Claudio and Hero (Jillian Morgese), who is a daughter of Leonato.
There is a lot of partying going on, and eventually Claudio proposes to Hero. The night before their wedding however, Don John cooks up a plan to make is appear as if Hero cheats on Claudio with another man, and Claudio embarrasses Hero at their wedding, so much so that she faints, and is thought dead. Also, prior to the wedding, two parties have been working on setting up Benedick and Beatrice to get together, talking about each others fake infatuations with each other while one of the two is listening in “secret”. Eventually they think that they are in love.
Leonato, Beatrice and Benedick are able to revive Hero, and they begin to figure out why Claudio accused Hero of cheating on him. Beatrice becomes rather upset with Benedick at one point, demanding that if he loved her, he would kill Don John. He agrees to do so, but thankfully the “security”, led by Dogberry (Nathan Fillion) for the estate is able to uncover the plot of Don John, forcing his accomplices to admit their actions.
Claudio is reintroduced to his bride, and they are happily married. Soon after, Benedick and Beatrice learn of the others scheming to attempt to bring them together, and they think that they are not in love, but in turns out they really are, and they marry too, and the massive partying resumes.
So thoughts on the movie? I enjoyed the film, but since the script was in Shakespearian lingo, at times it was hard to follow, since I am not well versed in his methods. There were plenty of humorous moments, expected from a funny movie, and the story was fairly entertaining. I also enjoyed seeing much of the “Whedon-verse” in this film, with actors from Firefly, Angel, and Buffy all involved in this film.
I felt the story itself is a little dated, which would make sense, considering the play is around 400 years old, and this can’t really be to the fault of Whedon. Having the film set in modern times, might have been more enjoyable if the language was updated to reflect present times. Some of the dialogue seemed silly when set in present times, but perhaps Whedon intentionally did this.
Overall, I would give this movie a 7 out of 10. I think this lower rating may be partially due to my lack of experience with Shakespeare other than Romeo and Juliet, and therefore I am unable to appreciate this movie as much as someone more familiar with the source material. So I would highly recommend it if you are either a fan of Whedon or Shakespeare, and if you are a fan of both, then this just might be exactly what you are looking for.
The Background Story: Joss Whedon had been wanting to make Much Ado About Nothing into a movie for years, so rather than take a vacation in between wrapping up the filming of Marvel’s The Avengers and before beginning post production on it, he used those 12 days to film Much Ado – at his house. The film stars many recognizable faces from the Whedonverse, including Clark Gregg (Avengers), Alexis Denisof (Angel), Amy Acker (Angel), Nathan Fillion (Firefly), Sean Maher (Firefly), Tom Lenk (Buffy), Reed Diamond (Dollhouse), Fran Kranz (Dollhouse), and many others.
The movie is filmed entirely in black and white, and uses the original Old English text of the play written by William Shakespeare, but is set in present day. Much Ado tells the tale of Leonato (Gregg), his daughter Hero (Jillian Morgese) and her suitor Claudio (Kranz), Hero’s cousin Beatrice (Acker) and her former lover Benedick (Denisof), and a handful of other friends and foes who plot to either bring the lovers together or tear them apart. The story employs Shakespeare’s favorite plot devices of mistaken identity and misinformation.
To enjoy this film at all, you have to either be (a) a big Shakespeare fan, or (b) a big Joss Whedon fan. To truly appreciate it, you have to be both (a) and (b). I, unfortunately, am only (b). Indeed, I did enjoy seeing so many familiar faces from the Whedonverse, and I especially loved seeing Fred and Wesley – er, I mean, Acker and Denisof, romantically linked onscreen once more. Being a fan of so many of the actors and seeing them all work together gives the film a special meaning and feeling to Whedon fans that non-Whedon fans would not have understood. To them, most of these people are no-name actors to which non-Whedon fans have no emotional attachment.
At the same time, however, there are probably many nuances that a non-Shakespeare fan would not have understood either. Admittedly, there were many points in the film when other people were laughing at something, but I had no idea what was going on or what they were laughing at. My only guess is that those people laughing must have been the big Shakespeare fans in the audience, who were already familiar with the story, and knew what was going on, and I had missed something, being that this was the first time I had ever been exposed to this particular Shakespeare play. Although Whedon did an amazing job modernizing the film, and through his direction those of us unfamiliar with the story are more easily able to understand what is happening, it is still very difficult to get past the Old English text and be able to grasp all the details, despite the fact that I am an educated person.
Would the film would have benefitted from an updating of the text, or would that have destroyed the elegance of it? I don’t know, but I felt that some of it was lost in translation for me. This movie seems like it would only appeal to a very niche audience, and that the general public would not be able to really get into the film. I feel like Baz Lurhman’s modernized Romeo + Juliet worked a lot better when it used the original Shakespearian dialogue because everyone is so familiar with the story, and therefore could more easily follow the storyline. In contrast, I never came across Much Ado, either in junior high, high school, or college (which I suspect is also true of most of the American population), so I went into the movie not knowing anything about the story, which made it a somewhat disconcerting experience, constantly struggling to keep up and keep everything straight. Of course, this is not something that I can blame on Whedon. However, there were a few little things that I felt made things a little more confusing than they needed to be, or situations which seemed a bit unrealistic that could have easily been made more believable.
Overall, I did find this movie delightfully funny, and there were several scenes which would not have been so hilarious without Whedon’s brilliant directing, not to mention the superb acting abilities of all of the cast members. I just wish I had been more familiar with the story so that I could truly appreciate the film.
My rating: 7/10