So who in their wildest imagination thought that they would see Joss Whedon make a black and white film based off of a Shakespearean comedy, that stars Nathan Fillion and Sean Maher of Firefly fame as well as Agent Phil Couleson himself, Clark Gregg? Honestly, is there anyone out there that ever thought they would see this movie? When I first heard about Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing, I wasn’t as much worried about a terrible movie as I was just shocked that all of this could come together in the first place. The mere concept alone of a Whedon take on a Shakespearean comedy just blew my mind to the point that if you could look into my head all you would see is a blue screen of death.
So when I went to see it this weekend, I walked into the theater with bated breath not knowing what to expect. I do enjoy a lot of Whedon’s work, but even the most die-hard Whedon fans were not sure what to expect from this film. So I saw it and as the credits rolled, I sat in my chair with a feeling of satisfaction that I had not felt all year-long while going to the theaters. Oh man, this was a damn good movie! I will repeat, a DAMN good movie. As far as movies that he has directed, I will say it is easily his best work.
For those of you who never took a high school English class, let me quickly sum up the plot of Much Ado About Nothing. The story is kind of ‘romantic comedy before it was cool’ sort of thing with two different love tales, one of a soldier name Claudio (Frank Kranz) and the daughter of the Governor of Messina, Hero (Jillian Morgese) which is kind of lovey dovey, let’s stare into each other’s eyes all night type of romance. While the other is between Claudio’s friend Benedick (Alexis Denisof) and Beatrice (Amy Acker) which is a much more comedic sort of relationship as the two throw witty jabs at one another and profess their hatred for one another while the remaining cast tries to hook them up through various antics. All the while in the mix is the nefarious Prince Don John (Sean Maher) who wishes to end the marriage of Claudio and Hero by any means necessary. The story is one of Shakespeare’s more light-hearted adventures with a very happy and cheerful sort of feel to it.
There is plenty to talk about so let’s get started.
This is a huge complaint that I have with William Shakespeare’s Comedies in the first place is that they are treated so damn serious! I remember whenever I would have a class in high school or college and they would talk about one of his comedies and they would be so serious and so somber about the subject material. We would have to write long papers about the symbolism of this scene and the meaning of that scene. All the while I am sitting there saying, “For the love of God, this is the Ye Olde England version of a romantic comedy! Why are we treating it like we are reading Atlas Shrugged or The Communist Manifesto?!”
But this film was hilarious! I was not expecting to watch a black and white film that is a take on Shakespeare and literally be clutching my gut laughing as Benedick is doing bizarre flips and jumps to avoid being detected by his friends as they are talking about him and Beatrice and the same scene with Beatrice trying to eavesdrop in on Hero and Margaret (Ashley Johnson) or better yet any scene that involves Dogberry (Nathan Fillion) and his watchmen which I could only chalk up to it being a spoof of Miami Vice. (Not to mention he does a great David Curuso impression mid film).
The film is just hilarious and fun to watch and in my opinion, is the first interpretation of Shakespeare’s comedies that really got what it meant to be a comedy.
Whenever you do anything with Shakespeare… Well at least anything that keeps the dialogue, your actors need to be at the top of their game, because a lot of the things they are saying are going to go completely over the audience’s collective heads. If they do not have some of the best body language working for them then a lot of the jokes and a lot of the conversations will not be understood and the audience will be a drift in a sea of confusion.
Luckily though all of the actors are on their A game for this film. Not only do they have fantastic body language, but each of the actors does a fantastic job enunciating each of their lines. I am so happy to see this! Whenever I see something done by Shakespeare, a lot of the actors say their lines so fast and so mixed together that I can’t understand what they are saying, let alone in classic English. But thanks to proper enunciation you are able to understand a lot of what is being said. You, as a viewer might not understand every word that is spoken, but thanks to the body language that accompanies it you will always understand the story and what is happening on-screen.
The first film that comes to mind when using a ‘modern’ setting while still using the classic words of Shakespeare’s stories is Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet. Now I said in my Great Gatsby review that Romeo + Juliet was my favorite work by Luhrmann’s due to the fact that the cinematography compliments Shakespeare’s words… Well Whedon just blew that out of the water and beat him on just about every possible area that you can beat a person when it comes to film.
Unlike Luhrmann’s style of substance point of view, Whedon is able to meld the two giving just the right amount of visuals to compliment the overall surrounding. Luhrmann relies heavily on a lot of camera work and dramatic angles to portray really dramatic scenes. Whedon downplays this and let’s the actors set the stage and the cinematography and the setting itself compliments the drama being presented. There are some very artistic moments and we will get to that in just a second, but really Whedon downplays big grandiose moments and instead keeps a very small and concise setting and let’s the actors carry the film instead of hoping that dramatic angles and beautiful settings are enough to push the film.
And then there is the comparison to The Great Gatsby. All the problems and really all the compliments too that I talked about in my Great Gatsby review seem to be addressed by Whedon in this film and just does it better in every way. The settings and cinematography that I praised Luhrmann for in The Great Gatsby as completely overshadowed by Whedon in just one scene… The party scene. Everything about it is fantastic made all the better by the music that is playing. Unlike Luhrmann who shoe horned in poorly placed rap music, the music being played in this scene and throughout the entire movie is just phenomenal. It melds with the film and shapes the film. Without the music you feel like you are missing a vital part of the story. It just compliments it so well. Luhrmann can take a couple of pages out of Whedon’s book on how to recreate a classic literary piece and turn it into a film.
It is Just Leaves You With That Feel Good Sensation
Bottom line, this film is just an all around fun watch. It gives you that warm fuzzy feeling inside and makes your day better by simply watching it. You can really feel the enjoyment in the film, not just from the story but from the actors as well. You can see the sincerity that went into the making, and that really ads to a film like this.
The Black and White Aspect of the Film Leaves Some Pretty Nasty Glares
The only problem that I had with the film is the fact that some of the cinematography suffers, mainly due to the fact that it is in black and white. I do love the black and white aspect of the film, the only problem is that because it is in black and white it adds some pretty nasty glares on certain surfaces and even peoples faces that can be very distracting. Whenever you film something that is intended in black and white, lighting in both broad daylight and night are HUGE and can cause problems if not done absolutely right. Sadly there are a few moments where this is the case, mainly in any scene that involves bright rays of sunlight. But luckily these scenes are few and far between.
This is easily the best film that I have seen this year. The story stays true to the source material and creates a very funny and very enjoyable movie that can be liked by both the regular movie viewer as well as the sternest of critics. Even if you are not a fan of Whedon’s I recommend everyone see this movie, you will not be disappointed.
Final Score 4.5/5
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