Review: Much Ado About Nothing

Emily White ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff
Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing was introduced at the Boston Independent Film Festival as crossing the Venn Diagram between Shakespeare devotees and Whedonites. A seemingly strange combination, Much Ado About Nothing infuses Whedon’s unique brand of quirky humor with a strong but fresh interpretation of the classic Shakespearean text. The overall affect is a beautiful cinematic experience.
Shot entirely in black and white and over a mere eleven days at Joss Whedon’s house, the film is refreshingly modern and truthful. At the festival, actors Fran Kranz (Claudio) and Jillian Morgese (Hero) discussed the challenges of a fast-paced shooting schedule. However, most of the actors had already been doing readings of Shakespeare’s plays at Whedon’s house for a long while, and had established an ensemble as well as a group friendship among them. This dynamic displays itself in the fresh and physical feel of the acting in the movie. Alexis Denisof as Benedick and Amy Acker as Beatrice are especially charged and fresh when they match their quick wits and fall into passionate love as the movie progresses. All the actors take risks and make bold choices in their line deliveries that seem as though they are saying the words for the first time, which they probably were.
Adapting any Shakespearean text for the screen is always a challenge, as the text is so written to be performed in a theatrical venue. It is especially challenging when the film is set in modern times but utilizes traditional text. Kranz commented that Whedon told the actors to downplay the lines, rather than perform them at a large-scale theatrical level, in order to make them seem more realistic. Kranz commented that it was strange at first, especially given the dense and confusing nature of Shakespearean text for audiences. The technique ended up making the text a lot more accessible to audiences and a lot more believable on the film medium. Whedon’s decision to justify the characters’ ridiculous language and behavior by having them constantly be shown drinking alcohol throughout the movie made the film that much more believable and humorous.
It is Whedon’s trademark quirky sense of humor that makes the film really work. The small moments and extraordinary physical acting that goes along with the traditional text bring out new layers of humor and fresh interpretations. Nathan Fillion as Dogberry, a cop in this version of Much Ado, caused the audience to laugh uproariously every time he was onscreen, sometimes simply with a look through his “cool” sunglasses. A standout scene in the movie involves Denisof, in true Shakespearean style, overhearing a conversation of other characters while he is “unseen,” although the audience can see him clearly. Whedon plays on this famous Shakespearean gag by making Denisof as ridiculously visible as possible but also having the other characters be completely oblivious to him anyway.
The cinematography of the film is also spectacular. The decision to put the film in black and white gives the audience a sense of unreality, so that we don’t have to justify the characters’ Shakespearean behavior with their modern setting. It also allows the viewer to focus much more on the incredibly executed shots. The film employs almost every type of shot imaginable, from a landscape to a close-up on an actor’s subtle smirk. One of the shots involves Denisof and Acker on the steps to a landing that clearly but subtly invokes the famous Romeo and Juliet scene, which demonstrates Whedon’s impeccable attention to detail and love for Shakespearean interpretation. This love can be seen in Whedon’s direction, but also in all of the actors, who are clearly enjoying every minute of the movie, which is what makes it such a joy to watch.
Much Ado About Nothing is expected to premiere in mainstream theatres on June 7th.

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