A healthy dose of disrespect keeps Joss Whedon’s “Much Ado About Nothing” from toppling into the swamp of sensibilities that so often swallows up Shakespeare updates – those well-intentioned “reimaginings” that put a cast in new clothes and new attitudes, and thus render the dialogue even dustier than it already might seem (at least to audiences who wouldn’t go to an Elizabethan play without the barrel of a revolver stuck up their collective nostril).
Even for Shakespeare fans, such updating can have a deleterious effect, creating cognitive distance where there shouldn’t be any: Shakespeare is nothing if not modern, something “Much Ado” makes abundantly clear. And of which Whedon is abundantly aware.
Can we use the word MILF on this blog? No? OK never mind. Amy Acker is just one of the splendid cast populating this Shakespearean burlesque, most of whom Whedon has drafted from earlier projects: Acker (“Cabin in the Woods”) and Alexis Denisof (“Angel”) play the world’s original, blisteringly bickering lovers, Beatrice and Benedick, whose clever dissing of each other masks – verily -- a profound and barely concealable lust.
Fran Kranz (“Cabin,” “Dollhouse”) and ravishing newcomer Jillian Morgese (who had a bit part in Whedon’s “The Avengers”) are Claudio and Hero, the besotted lovers around whom all else revolves. Clark Gregg (“Avengers”) is Hero’s father, Leonato, and Sean Maher is Don John, the “bastard prince” who sets up the masquerade that convinces Claudio that Hero is untrue -- and the mechanism by which Beatrice and Benedick finally get down to bizzy-ness.
The film, which has been doing the festival circuit since premiering at Toronto last fall, was shot in 12 days on the fly, on the cheap at Whedon's L.A. home and on the sly (actors were forbidden to tweet about it, apparently). While the film’s B&W imagery seems to aspire to the cinematographic magnificence of an old Calvin Klein ad, an allegiance to Shakespeare is married -- marriage being the whole point of the story -- to a consistently creative use of physical comedy, an irresistible cast, and an informal sensibility that’s precisely the opposite of what audiences generally expect from their Bard. It’s fun, in other words -- no other words really being necessary.
Check out the film's trailer and the New York Times "Anatomy of a Scene" featurette below.