Shakespeare's Much Ado about Nothing has never been a favorite comedy of mine--not, that is, until last night, when I had the pleasure of seeing Joss Whedon's recent film. The verbal sparring of Beatrice and Benedick had always struck me as tiresome, while the malapropisms of the constable Dogberry had always seemed to me more contrived than amusing.
But Whedon has forced me to change my mind. He has directed and produced a film of Much Ado that is truly a festive comedy. Not only does the film end with a dance, but it makes the audience want to get up and dance with the characters. And somehow he managed to make this movie in a mere twelve days while keeping within a miniscule budget.
Is it a perfect film? Well, no. It's set in our time in what looks like Santa Monica. For a duke to pull up to a house in a procession of limos doesn't quite equal the pageantry of an entrance on stage, while the discrepancy of men in suits and ties speaking Shakespeare to each other is initially off-putting. And pulling back your suit jacket to point towards an automatic in a belt holster doesn't work as well as a hand on your sword when challenging somebody to a duel. Having Beatrice slosh down so much wine seems rather too much of a good thing.
What bothered me the most is the enforced split in the characterization of Hero (Jillian Morgese) and Beatrice (Amy Acker). Whedon motivated the putdowns between Beatrice and Benedick (Alexis Denisof) by opening with a scene of Benedick leaving Beatrice's bed: she is feigning sleep, he is trying to decide whether to say anything before he leaves. He remains silent. In the narrow sense of motivating their professed distaste for each other, the scene works. In terms of the film as a whole, however, it's questionable. Hero, Beatrice's beloved cousin, is the model of chastity who is (falsely) accused of being a wanton. Beatrice is staunch in her support. But the polarizing language of Shakespeare's virgin/whore dichotomy to me cast a shadow over Beatrice's character--as it wouldn't have done if Whedon had not interpolated that scene.
Nevertheless, I'll still give Whedon's Much Ado about Nothing an A. The casting is right on, every actor performs admirably, the slapstick farce is funny, and the movie joyful. See it if you possibly can. A hit, a palpable hit!