Film Opens June 21 Angelika Dallas and Angelika Plano
Review By: Gordon K. Smith
It’s good to be Joss Whedon, and make a movie as phenomenally successful as last year’s THE AVENGERS (second highest grossing film of the 21st century to date), which then allows you to make a small, low-budget black and white Shakespeare film that everyone actually wants to see. You also get a website (www.whedonesque.com) devoted to the universe you have created, which includes “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”, “Angel”, “Dollhouse”, “Serenity”, CABIN IN THE WOODS, et. al., and the actors who populate it. Many of those actors show up in Whedon’s funny and charming MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, which has a pretty amazing production history of its own.
Turns out Whedon is quite The Bard scholar (who knew?), and for years has been throwing parties at his Santa Monica mansion where his stock company would do a table read of a Shakespeare classic. Between the filming and post-production stages of THE AVENGERS, he decided to stage one and actually put it on film, and show people he could deal with themes other than vampires, superheroes, spaceships and the end of the world. MUCH ADO was filmed in 12 days in and around his house; Whedon won’t divulge the budget, but one can safely assume it maybe equaled a day’s catering on AVENGERS.
Whedon keeps the setting and dress modern, and Wil S.’s dialog largely intact, smartly condensing the play down to 107 min. And it’s in black and white – which I hope never disappears as a moviemaking option. Granted, a Shakespearean rom-com isn’t the first thing that comes to mind as an essential use of b&w – not like GOOD NIGHT AND GOOD LUCK, or THE ARTIST was – but it does give the film a sheen that connects it to classic Hollywood screwball gems like THE PHILADELPHIA STORY.
MUCH ADO could be all of the above and still be, well, much ado about nothing, but the good news is, it’s a lot of fun. Here’s the basic rundown for those of you who plugged in your iPod when the sig other dragged you to Shakespeare In the Park or searched frantically for a DVD of Kenneth Branagh’s 1993 version the night before your English Lit finals. I won’t list everyone’s place in the Whedonverse – if you’re reading this you probably know already.
Like many of The Bard’s comedies, MAAN involved two sets of couples, one smitten on first site and the other at bickering odds. Leonato (Clark Gregg), the governor of Messina, is visited by Don Pedro (Reed Diamond—a great actor name!), and his comrades Benedick (Alexis Denisof) and Claudio (Fran Kanz). Claudio falls for Leonato’s daughter Hero (Jillian Morgese), becoming the Happy Couple. Benedick trades slings and arrows with Beatrice (Amy Acker), the governor’s niece. Comic relief, with a badge and a gun, is provided by Nathan Fillion as the flustered cop Dogberry. Spoiler: it all turns out well. Even outside of Whedonworld, these are familiar faces on large or small screen, but not at the cost of name value over acting talent, a problem of Branagh’s version (from the Keanu Reeves Tries To Do An English Accent era – still, the two versions would make a fascinating double bill).
That Joss can jazz up the fanboys for his minimalist labor of love is a good sign for a industry too reliant on CGI spectaculars. I’d love to see his take on “Macbeth” – ghosts, gore, and witches – now there’s a Shakespeare play made for the Whedonverse.