Thursday, June 20, 2013

Movie Review: Much Ado About Nothing

When nerd extraordinaire Joss Whedon took up Thor’s hammer to direct the mega-blockbuster Avengers, many fans were rightfully concerned that the auteur’s days of quiet, emotional ensemble pieces were behind him. But to their and our (and my) joyful surprise, Whedon followed up the superhero team-up extravaganza with a micro-budgeted black-and-white modern adaptation of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, filmed entirely at Whedon’s California home with a cast of regular Whedonverse contributors who are, in their own part, a who’s who of underrated Hollywood talent.

If reports are to be believed, Whedon was directed by his Marvel corporate bosses to take a small rest between principal photography on Avengers and the laborious post-production process. But Whedon, never one to sit on his hands (his web series Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-long Blog is one of the best things to come out of the 2007-08 writer’s strike) instead invited a gang of pals to his home for a 12-day shoot that, once Avengers was completed, the writer-director shopped around at film festivals before finally releasing for the world to enjoy.

And “enjoy” is truly the operating word, as this latest take on a Shakespeare work is one of the most effortlessly charming films to hit cinemas this year.  A sense of renegade filmmaking bleeds into every scene of  Much Ado, as the stripped down production captures all the emotion and nuance of a film 100 times its size.

The actors are loose and casual, less worried about creating a character as much as simply being a character, and rattle off Shakespearean prose with the same air as though they were gabbing with girlfriends on a Sunday morning walk down Santa Monica boulevard.
It is essentially the Greek ideal: simplicity, perfection and order.

Much Ado tells the story of two couples, the cynical combatants Beatrice and Benedick (Cabin in the Woods’ Amy Acker and HIMYM’s Alexis Desnisof) and the lovesick innocents Claudio and Hero (Cabin in the Wood’s Fran Kranz and Whedon discoveree Jillian Morgese), who are each manipulated for good and ill by the calculations of those around them. Beatrice and Benedick have individually sworn off the notion of love and collectively are engaged in a “merry war” of wits, but are moved to profess their love for one another after overhearing fictitious tales of the other’s affection.

Claudio and Hero, on the other hand, become engaged while Claudio visits the home of Leonato, Hero’s father, played by Marvel MVP Clark Gregg, but in the lead-up to their wedding day Claudio is led to believe that Hero has been unfaithful to him due to the trickery of Don Jon (Firefly’s Sean Maher), the bastard brother of Don Pedro (Franklin and Bash’s Reed Diamond), a companion of both Claudio and Benedick.

That mix up is the titular “Nothing” from which much ado arises, but after a series of misunderstandings all is made right by the bumbling actions of guardsman DogBerry, played in this film by the indispensable Nathan Fillion, whose short but sweet entrance into the film is the cherry on this already delicious cake.

I suppose that last paragraph was technically a spoiler and for that I apologize, but if you really don’t know the story it’s your own fault for sleeping during your high school English class.

Much Ado is the perfect antithesis to the summer blockbuster schedule. It is a welcome break from the barrage of explosions and carnage and had me laughing out loud and squirming in delight for the entirety of its running time. While it may not have the shiny toys of more expensive Hollywood creations, it’s probably the most fun you’ll have in a theater this season and try as I might, I can think of nothing to criticize. All we can hope is that as Whedon’s Hollywood star brightens, he continues to find time to experiment with films like this in the ever shrinking gaps in his schedule.

Grade: A

*Much Ado About Nothing opens in Utah on Friday June 21

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