Much Ado About Nothing review: I didst fall in love
Pure, unalloyed, rollicking cinematic joy. Brings the romantic comedy as a genre into a realm of fantasy and poetry and fun and laughter.
I’m “biast” (pro):
love Whedon, love Shakespeare
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
I have read the source material (and I love it)
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
Forsooth, this is a pretty play! And “play” it truly is. You don’t realize how infrequently it’s obvious onscreen that everyone is having fun doing what they do until you see it as plain as day, and are forced to wonder why the hell so many other people up on that big screen in other films suddenly seem to have such a puss on about making movies. Much Ado About Nothing might be Shakespeare’s funniest play, and it’s certainly wiser about romance than most of what has passed for romantic comedy in the past 50 years, which makes a smart, snappy production — as this is — always welcome. But that’s not the best reason to see this. The best reason to see this is simply because it is pure, unalloyed, rollicking cinematic joy.
There’s a very good explanation for why this film feels like geek-boy writer-director Joss Whedon (Avengers Assemble, Serenity) got all his little actor friends together and put on a show in the backyard. Because that’s exactly what he did. Apparently Whedon gets all his little actor friends together on a regular basis to sit around and shoot the Shakespearean shit at his house — this is play to these talented people; this is how they have fun when no one else is watching, just for their own pleasure. Except this time we do get to watch, because there were cameras around to catch it all.
I envy those for whom the involvement of Joss Whedon and players from his Firefly and Angel and Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Dollhouse means that this is their first exposure to Much Ado. I’d love to be able to experience the unfolding of the wickedly funny and wise romantic japes here again and have it be all new and surprising. To see the equally yet oppositionally snarky Benedick (Alexis Denisof) and Beatrice (Amy Acker: The Cabin in the Woods) come to realize that the arrows of wit that fly between them are those of love, not disdain… though knowing that this is the case with them merely puts us on a par with everyone around them who loves them and cheekily conspires to trick them into admitting they’re actually perfect for each other: her uncle, Leonato (Clark Gregg: Thor, Iron Man 2) and his daughter Hero (new Whedon discovery Jillian Morgese); and his boss, Don Pedro (Reed Diamond: Moneyball) and pal Claudio (Fran Kranz: The Cabin in the Woods).
This is a story, then, about a bunch of clever, elegant people at weekend house party told by a bunch of clever, elegant people at weekend house party. (Whedon shot over 12 days, actually, but still.) It’s a frolic, and it accidentally brings the romantic comedy as a genre into a realm of fantasy and poetry and fun and laughter in a way that few other films can manage even deliberately, so that even the woefully outdated stuff — like men wishing death on a young lady merely because they believe she is no longer a virgin — can be brushed off as simply part of the extended ridiculous pretending. This cannot be taken seriously, which is a good thing: it becomes the sheerest, breeziest form of escapism, in which the evil prince and “plain-speaking villain” Don John (Sean Maher) and comic relief Dogberry (Nathan Fillion [Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, Waitress] and oh man, is he hilarious) are but extremes on a spectrum of amusement that breathes with dramatic and humorous vitality and a sort of honest enthusiastic spirit that often gets bogged down in plot and process and self-aggrandizement in even the most inconsequential of popcorn movies. There is no ambition in this Much Ado, in the sense that it wants nothing but to divert you, and has nothing to prove. We get to watch these actors at play here, but they don’t seem to know — or care — that we’re watching. Their fun infects us, and becomes ours.
I commit no false report, nor do I speak untruths, nor am I a lying knave: I love this movie. I wish everyone who doesn’t “get” Shakespeare could see it and understand that it’s not supposed to be staid and stuffy but, done right, is marvelous and jubilant and leaves you walking on air.