Cast: Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Nathan Fillion, Clark Gregg, Fran Kranz, Reed Diamond, Jillian Morgese
Written by: William Shakespeare (adaptation by Joss Whedon)
Directed by: Joss Whedon
This past year I spent two days on the set of an FX-heavy, major studio spectacle (due out next summer--believe me, you'll hear about it) and came away with a newfound admiration for the kind of director who can keep such a crazy collision of departments working on a unified vision, all the while making the money people happy. How does he keep his sanity, I often marveled? How does one cope when so much is at stake? When you can get extras to stop staring at the camera, forcing the shoot into overtime? At one point, it was all about making movies with your friends in the back yard, right?
Well, if you’re Joss Whedon and you’re in the midst of making one of the most anticipated comic book adaptations of all time, you use your downtime to shoot a Shakespearean classic with your actor friends. In the back yard. Yours.
Shot in secret in just twelve days at his own home in Santa Monica, CA with alumni from Whedon's "Firefly", "Dollhouse", "Buffy", "Angel", and "The Avengers", “Much Ado About Nothing” is the unlikely product of the geek guru's frustration with the hurry-up-and-wait dynamic of mega-buck productions.
For those of you who ended their relationship with The Bard after high school English class, or missed Kenneth Branagh’s excellent period version from 1993, here’s the Coles’ Note version (which would be “Cliff’s Notes”, in Canada):
Black escalades pull up in front of the estate of Messina as prince Don Pedro (Diamond), Claudio (Kranz), and Benedick (Denisof), have returned from battle. Leonato (Gregg), the governor, invites them to stay at his home for the month, which ignites the "merry war" between Beatrice (Acker), Leonato's niece and Benedick, long-time adversaries.
Claudio’s romantic longing for Hero (Morgese), Leonato's only daughter, are reignited, and he pursues a courtship. He is dissuaded by bitter Benedick, who declares he will never be married. But Don Pedro encourages Claudio's campaign and assures Benedick that the right woman will change his mind.
At a celebratory masquerade ball, Don Pedro, sporting a disguise, woos Hero on Claudio's behalf. Cue Don John (Maher), Don Pedro's illegitimate brother, who seeks to settle an old grievance and lies to Claudio that his brother is pursuing Hero for himself. But after confronting Don Pedro, the conflict is resolved and Hero agrees to marry Claudio.
Now a bored Don Pedro and his fellow soldier agree to engineer a truce between Beatrice and Benedick. Knowing Benedick is listening in, Don Pedro discuss Beatrice's feelings for Benedick. The conspiring bridesmaids so the same with Hero.
Their respective egos punctured, Beatrice and Benedick surrender to each other.
But Don John isn't finished. He ups the ante to ruin Claudio and Hero's wedding, but staging a new opportunity for Claudio to doubt his betrothed's fidelity...
Shot in black and white by Jay Hunter (a second unit DOP on Whedon’s “Dollhouse” series), the film, despite its practical locations and hand-held, fly-on-the wall quality, manages to exude a beguiling, never-never land vibe especially in the mid-section’s lengthy, booze-soaked bacchanal (incidentally, I don’t they drank more booze in an entire season of “Mad Men” than is consumed in this one household) which crackles as part Cassavettes, part Fellini, and part “Obsession” ad.
And while the entire cast is uniformly excellent--esp. Acker and Denisof's delightfully barbed timing--and the sense of mutual fun and camaraderie infectious, it must be mentioned that that fan favorite Nathan Fillion steals the show as the bumbling constable Dogbert, and Michael Keaton’s portrayal in the Branaugh version casts a pretty long shadow...
It should come as no surprise that “Much Ado About Nothing” had no trouble finding a distributor, but unfortunately you’ll have to wait as Lionsgate, in association with Roadshow Attractions, won’t be releasing the film in North America until June of next year…
©Robert J. Lewis 2012