Review: Much Ado About Nothing (TIFF 2012)
PLOT: Fair Beatrice (Amy Acker) lives with her guardian, Leonato (Clark Gregg) and her cousin Hero (Jillian Morgese). They receive a visit from Don John (Sean Maher) and his two comrades, Claudio (Fran Kranz)- who worships Hero, and the roguish Benedict (Alexis Denisof)- who has carried on a love/hate relationship with his sparring partner Beatrice for years. REVIEW: Apparently the strain of making THE AVENGERS wasn't too great for writer/director Joss Whedon, who- on a twelve day break from the production, staged and shot a modern retelling of William Shakespeare's MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING at his Santa Monica home. Obviously this is a tiny production, having been filmed with hand-held cameras, in black and white, and uses only one location. That said, given that Shakespeare wrote for the stage, do you really need anything else?
Apparently not, as in MUCH ADO, Whedon's managed to stage one of the freshest interpretations of the Bard I've seen in ages. Using the original prose, but married to his own modern sensibility, Whedon's managed to pull out all kinds of subtleties and nuances- all of which scream post-modern, from the disdainful glance Claudio receives from a black house guest when he says moor, to an amused double take when characters wax too poetically.
Whedon's cast plays like the Whedon all-stars, with it mostly consisting of his regular core players from his TV shows and films. Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker, who both appeared on ANGEL, are superb as the bickering Benedict and Beatrice. Denisof as the roguish, woman-hating Benedict, and Acker as the modern, opinionated Beatrice put a thoroughly modern spin on their characters, and embellish each with some hilarious pratfalls and slapstick here and there- although once the play takes a serious turn in the third act they do the same. Watching these two- I remembered how much I liked seeing them week-in, week-out on ANGEL. Hopefully we'll get a chance to see more of them after this.
The rest of the cast is similarly appealing, with Clark Gregg (Coulson!) making an inspired Leonato, while Kranz plays up Claudio's lack of maturity. But- the scene stealers have to be Nathan Fillion as the clueless Dogberry, and Tom Lenk (of BUFFY's Legion of Doom) as his assistant Verges, with them being re-imagined as dim-witted LAW & ORDER style-cops, with Lenk even sporting a copstache'. Every time Fillion appeared on screen the Whedon-friendly audience started cheering, and he's surprisingly adept as the Shakespearean dialogue (as is the whole cast actually).
Suffice to say, I really enjoyed Whedon's take on the Bard, as it was both faithful to the original play, but also given a thoroughly modern upgrade that didn't feel the least bit contrived. It's an interesting exercise for Whedon, who usually relies so heavily on his own dialogue, but is forced to completely reinvent his own style with this. I'm curious to see what else he puts out in-between his forays into the Marvel Universe.