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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Much Ado About Nothing review: I didst fall in love

Much Ado About Nothing green light Alexis Denisof Amy Acker

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.


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Much Ado About Nothing (2013)
US/Can release: Jun 7 2013
UK/Ire release: Jun 14 2013

Flick Filosopher Real Rating: rated SD: stars danced
MPAA: rated PG-13 for some sexuality and brief drug use
BBFC: rated 12A (contains moderate sex and implied drug use)

viewed in 2D
viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, you might want to reconsider.

  • Lisa

    Not as funny as David Tennant’s which had a friggin awesome Don Pedro but this was pretty good for an American effort. I loved Benedict walking off during the wedding to get pissed – that makes so much sense. Of course he would! Clearly Whedon thinks Claudio is an asshole – I liked the whole I would marry thee even if thou wert an Ethiope as he is walking past the apparently only black member of the cast. He lets him off the hook though – there’s none of that laughing heartless Claudio after the church scene. Fillion was brilliant in it, ably supported by Tom Lenk – best Dogberry I’ve seen – it’s very hard to do a good Dogberry! I loved Acker and Denisof in Angel and a little part of me is happy that Wes and Fred get to be together at last.

  • Hank Graham

    “Wes and Fred get to be together at last.”

    You are *such* a Whedon geek. And I wish I’d thought of it first. :)

  • Captain_Swing666

    Saw this at the Globe recently and loved it despite standing in the pouring rain for the entire performance. I’m looking forward to this – the idea of people having fun on screen, Nathan Fillion AND one of my favourite plays is irresistible.

    It’s interesting about the “fun” part. I always find music has a bigger buzz for me when the performers are having a good time – you can tell even on a recording.

    I’m wracking my brains to think of other films where this could be said to be true. “Grosse Pointe Blank” perhaps? And another hit man film, “Wild Target”. Oh, and “8 Women” by Francoise Ozone.

    Any thoughts anyone?

  • RogerBW

    I think that in some cultural contexts Shakespeare has been appropriated as a class marker – just as in most Hollywood films the use of diegetic classical music is a marker for “these are rich snobby people”. But he had to try to appeal to everyone, the nobs and the proles… which is part of why you get such large casts, to work in the subtle stuff and the low comedy.

  • Lisa

    I loved the Globe one! Charles Edwards! Eve Best! Their Dogberry sucked though.

  • BrianJKelly

    “”Wes and Fred get to be together at last.”

    You’re going to make me cry. =) #sentimentalgeek

  • DarkMagess

    He did atleast have Benedick roll his eyes in overdramatic fashion at the Ethiope line. It gave me the impression that Claudio, sometimes, just says the dumbest shit you’ve ever heard and even his friends want to smack him.

  • Ian Osmond

    The part of MUCH ADO which seems hardest to get right is Dogberry. Michael Keaton’s Dogberry was the worst part of Kenneth Brannaugh’s movie — including Keanu Reves’ bland and forgettable Prince John. (I checked this out with other folks: a lot of them also hated Keaton, but completely forgot that Keanu was in it…) And some actors I’ve loved in the Boston area theater scene have left me completely unimpressed with Dogberry.

    The problem is that a little of Dogberry goes a long way, and there’s a LOT of Dogberry. It’s such an over-the-top hammy role.

    And then Joss gives it to the biggest ham he knows?

    And it works.

    Nathan Fillion managed to dial Dogberry from “obnoxious and grating” all the way back to “really, really damn funny.” How the heck did NATHAN FILLION, of all people, know how to underplay that role so well?

  • I have very mixed feelings on the play Much Ado, mostly because I really, really hate the Hero subplot (the Guardian had a great article on that very point: http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/2011/jun/17/shakespeare-much-ado-wyndhams-globe). I generally liked the casting, especially Amy Acker. Loved the setting – using Whedon’s house for the shoot was certainly interesting. That said, I think my issues about the Hero subplot were made even stronger due to the modern dress, setting and American accents.

  • I didn’t think Michael Keaton was that bad as Dogberry (Keanu Reeves’ performance bothered me more) but I agree that Fillion really pulled it off.

  • madderrose74

    “Why can’t I stay?”

  • BrianJKelly

    *sob*

    Got to see Much Ado on Sunday. Soo good. =)

  • AA

    Just saw this on Friday and I LOVED it!

    So much great nonverbal communication that was done waaay better than any other production I have seen thus far. The Beatrice/Benedick back-story has been laid bare and is lovely in its irony (one time discretion was NOT a good idea).
    Plus with one simple action and expression, Joss partially redeemed Claudio from his stupidly mean revenge and showed better Don Jon’s sense of timing in orchestrating the whole. (@LaurieMann: this is also my least favorite part) The maiden speech was not the awkward part in the modernization (clearly Claudio was hurting from the cheating and his monologue comes out more like desperate hyperbole), but rather the delivery of Claudio’s penance by Leonato. Especially given the way that the forgiveness scene played out at the end.
    But really — it’s all about Beatrice and Benedick, and Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof were fantastic in all parts.

  • cal

    I agree – he was just slightly goofier than his persona on Castle, and it totally worked.

  • Beckymarie

    Loved the film! The only issue I have is that the region 2 DVD doesn’t get the special features that the region 1 DVD gets!

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