Friday, June 21, 2013

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING Review- Jonesy's Take

Directed by Joss Whedon
Written by William Shakespeare and adapted by Joss Whedon
Starring: Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Jillian Morgese, Fran Kranz, Nathan Fillion, Clark Gregg, and Sean Maher
Synopsis: Shakespeare's romantic comedy set around the wedding of Hero and Claudio and the witty sparring relationship of Beatrice and Benedict.

Shakespeare seems to scare people away. The language is off-putting and the stories seem dated. So it takes someone with a very clear style and confidence to update one of his classic plays. Joss Whedon wanted to make MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING for years. It was his passion project. Then during some down time while filming THE AVENGERS, he gathered a few of his recurring cast of actors and filmed at his house for 12 days. The product is nothing short of lovely and wonderful.

MUCH ADO centers around the tug-o-war and sassy relationship between Beatrice (Amy Acker) and Benedict (Alexis Denisof) during the wedding of Beatrice's cousin, Hero (Jillian Morgese) to Benedict's comrade, Claudio (Fran Kranz). Beatrice and Benedict are Shakespeare's most famous comedy duos. They have a confidence yet vulnerability about their characters. Both Acker and Denisof capture these characters perfectly. There's hard headed-ness when they verbally spar, yet when feelings of love begin to surface, you see their tough exteriors begin to crack and they become more vulnerable.  The film is strongest when these two have scenes together, and their ease and understanding of the language translates beautifully.

Other notable performances is Fran Kranz as Claudio and Nathan Fillion as Dogberry. Claudio is set to marry Hero, so he can easily be written off as a sick puppy in love. However, Kranz brings a subtle charm to Claudio. When Claudio becomes the victim of treachery during the second half of the movie, Kranz isn't too over the top and bombastic. His choices feel more real and grounded. Dogberry is the comedic relief of the show, and the character could easily be portrayed as a bafoon. Fillion's take was absolutely brilliant. He portrayed Dogberry with such confidence and gust even though what his actions and lines are the complete opposite. Seriously, how did Dogberry land the head of security gig for Leonato?

Almost all the actors feel comfortable with the language, and it's lovely to see how funny a 400 year old play can be. Of course, coupling the smart dialogue with Whedon's sense of humor and direction makes certain scenes that much more enjoyable. The film itself is beautifully shot in black and white, which gives it a old-timey aesthetic. If you were off put by choice of the film being in black and white because it seemed like some hipster choice, don't you fret. It doesn't steer away from the performances or text. If anything, it helps you forget about the surroundings or color choices, and let's you focus on subtle humor of the film.

Although, 95% of the film works in Whedon's world, there are parts of the text that don't necessarily translate. Whenever you conceptualize one of Shakespeare's plays, you have to ask if all of his text works with your concept. Here, Whedon has set MUCH ADO in modern times, or at least modern enough where iPods are readily available. And while most of the character interactions work, some of the plot points feel dated. There are certain aspects of dealing with class and virginity seem almost silly, but this is a minor indiscretion.

In the end, Whedon made a smart choice casting and directing his buddies. This doesn't feel like a director just making a film just to give his friends work. There's real passion behind the camera, and this is a no fear Shakespeare movie fit for anyone.

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