“Serve God, Love Me, and Drink Heavily”- Much Ado About Nothing Review
For clarification’s sake, this review will contain only minimal and necessary spoilers, even though these are not technically spoilers because the play has existed for centuries, you illiterate degenerate.
Oh thank God.
It’s been a really paltry year at the multiplex so far this year folks, with me having only enjoyed one movie besides this one so far in 2013 (that honor of course going to Iron Man 3 and NOT Man of Steel). I didn’t even bother going to the movies for four months, as everything that looked kind of interesting came back with reviews that said they certainly weren’t, so, unfortunately for Gangster Squad, Gangster Squad did not receive my money.
So when it was announced that Joss Whedon (one of my favorite writers and a more-than competent director) was going to do his own version of Much Ado About Nothing, my absolute favorite Shakespeare play due largely to a stellar Kenneth Branagh-helmed adaptation from the 90’s and a Mumford & Sons song that borrows some lines, there was a lot of pressure on Much Ado to perform well. It was either going to be the sole bright spot in a dismal and paltry June, or the sign that I should give up and wait until Simon Pegg comes back.
Luckily for myself and the greater world at large, it’s the former.
The first thing Much Ado manages to accomplish is making me incredibly jealous of Joss Whedon. Not just because he has a vast Rolodex of friendly and talented actors he can call on to make a Shakespeare movie in two weeks, but because this beautiful home with a fantastic view is just his house. It’s where he lives, beautiful stone garden walkway and all. I’m going to get started immediately on that whole “creating a laundry list of cultishly-beloved projects” thing so that I, too, might be able to have Nathan Fillion run a police station in my basement.
The plot is as it is, blessed with a Shakespearian complexity not normally utilized by mainstream romantic comedies, and even if I wanted to question certain narrative ticks how could I without having the unwashed English major hordes of the Internet barrel down upon me with all of the fury of whatever army the principal male characters in this film are a part of. Whedon has adapted the film to the modern day, and thus there are a few plot points that don’t make sense, like Reed Diamond’s Don Pedro being a prince, which is not something one often sees in modern day Los Angeles. My solution to anyone who has a problem with this sort of thing is to get over it. Plain and simple. Take it for what it is, and just get past that. Whedon is easily not the first to do this, and certainly is doing it far better than Baz Luhrman did in that dreadful Leonardo DiCaprio-led Romeo + Juliet movie.
Whedon has changed a few things besides the century of events. Now Beatrice and Benedick have a bit of a sexual history, having hooked up once in the past. This gives their classic cutting interplay a different sort of cut, more bitter than of rivalry. It’s a choice I’m rather neutral on, and changes things a tad into more of a reunion than a hard-won union. Whedon has also trimmed Shakespeare’s five act script considerably, and the result really shows. The film absolutely flies, going by like a hefty, hearty breeze, and no one really wants to watch a four hour film, Kurosawa.
Things are primarily kept breezily, jazzily, drunkenly light here, with some great bits of comic mischief and a bit of impressive physical comedy from Amy Acker of all people. There are a few moments that take things a bit far in the silly direction, like a few points of a sequence that involves Alexis Denisof hiding in some bushes. It was funny, but stretches the bonds of reality a little bit too far, taking things from theatrical to broad, and that might have been the wrong way to go. Now, things are breezy until the until the points in the narrative that require things to get unbelievably dark, including the always gut-wrenching Awkward Wedding Scene, and a dark and passionate confrontation between Benedick and Beatrice.
All of this is highlighted by some absolutely gorgeous black and white photography that was definitely the right way to go. I keep trying to think of words I could use to describe this film, and the one that keeps coming up more than any other is “Classy.” This joint is just classy. From the fine suits worn by everyone involved to the smooth sounds of the play’s signature song “Sigh No More” into a slow-dancing ditty to the inexplicable acrobats doing great contortion work during the party sequence, this film is just dripping and languid with class.
A lot of the burden here rests upon the cast, who had to make this shindig in two weeks and spit out Shakespeare’s oft-complex language while receiving very little in the way of a paycheck, and pull it off ling gangbusters across the board. And! AND they manage to do it without the terrible Shakespeare copout fake British accent. I’m particularly fond of Reed Diamond as Don Pedro, who I have to imagine has some kind of training in the Bard and Amy Acker as Beatrice, who takes what could very easily turn into a bitchy Katherine Hepburn knock-off and makes it into a performance with an incredible amount of depth.
Also of particular note is Sean Maher as Don John, our prime antagonist. I was never a gigantic fan of Simon Tam on Firefly, but Maher absolutely kills this performance. He is the perfect slimy, conniving bad guy, and his bedroom scene with Garfunkle and Oates’ Riki Lindholme is the sexiest movie scene I have witnessed in a long time.
I’ve heard a few people speak out against Alexis Denisof as Benedick, sighting him as the weak link, but I was rather enamored by his performance. He had the pompous gravitas integral to the Benedick character and manages to give a Shakespearian soliloquy while jogging up and down stairs, which is deserving of at least some kind of applause or a cuddle or something.
Fran Kranz from Cabin in the Woods is also solid, which is great because I really didn’t expect him to be. I love Cabin, but his voice really got on my nerves, and now that I see that that is not the poorly fellow’s real voice I like him so much more. Marvel film mainstay Clark Gregg suffers a bit trying to get the words to come out of his mouth properly, but the emotion of his performance is there in spades, and I really believed his Leonato when he turned from fatherly to grief-stricken as the film’s narrative thickens.
Nathan Fillion and his intrepid brand of semi-incompetent law enforcers steal absolutely every scene they are in, even if their police headquarters (filmed in what looks like Whedon’s basement) is about as convincing as Superman’s Clark Kent act. Fillion is always a scene stealer, giving a really funny performance, and is aided by a solid supporting cast that includes Tom Lenk as an almost-certainly gay partner very reminiscent of Ray from Archer, and the boys from BriTANick, a YouTube comedy duo that you might know from their Shakespeare Monologue for Three, their video starring Joss Whedon, or their video featuring Nathan Fillion.
I enjoyed this film almost universally from beginning to end. The cinematography is interesting and dynamic (except perhaps the flashbacks shot entirely on Instagram), the cast is superb, and the fine flows freely from sun-up until sun-down, just skirting over that I’m positive everyone in this film has at least one form of alcoholism. Brava, Joss.
Final Verdict: A- — For being the best damn film I’ve seen so far this year.
Chekhov’s Gunman is a film and television blog moderated by Kevin Lanigan, a future writer of movies and television and current writer of Nathan Fillion’s incredibly unauthorized biography. Be sure to follow or subscribe above, and comment below if you want to take about this party.
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Man is a giddy thing…