Much Ado About Nothing (2013) (PG-13)

After "The Avengers" Joss Whedon had whipped the film world into a fanboy frenzy. What would be the next project from the newest idol of geek fandom? Move over, Christopher Nolan...we have somebody new to obsess about.
But before the followup film to "The Avengers" was announced, Joss Whedon did something very odd and maybe quite smart...he remembered his roots.
This director has been making cult classic TV shows and movies for decades. This is the man that made "Buffy the Vampire Slayer", "Firefly", and "Serenity"—each of which have their own very large fan base. So "The Avengers" was something that is a surprise to Whedon...a hit that's not popular after the fact.
And nobody can deny the success of the comic-book movie; but Whedon made a very risky move by returning to the smaller-budgeted, limited release world...thus came his rendition of William Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing".
To be fair, the Bard has seen his fair share of interpretations. From the faithful translations of Kenneth Branagh to Ian Doescher's William Shakespeare's Star Wars (which I'm proud enough to say that I've read), Shakespeare's works have been ripped apart and put back together so many times that it begins to feel a little reductive.
So with Whedon's "Much Ado About Nothing"...what do we have? The film is just the black-and-white shading short of being a full fledged disaster. Whedon employs his favorite actors who include Alexis Denisof, Clark Gregg, and Nathan Fillion; and with these men he makes a hipster-pleasing, stagey-feeling, unprofessional mess....and guess what? I loved it.
Yes, it's impossible to get away from the fact that this film is a very immature work that relies more on how it looks than what it's saying (a note to Malick critics: don't you dare say a's not the same thing).
The story is delightfully complicated and deals mostly, if not entirely, with love. At the beginning of the film we see the many characters assemble in a house for what appears to be a vacation of some sorts. Keep in mind that Whedon uses the original script here, so even though the movie is set in present day, we hear the Shakespearean flow of words pour out of their mouths. It's a little disconcerting at first, but you do get used to it.
What you need to know is that Benedict and Beatrice hate each other. If you've ever met someone who just rubs you the wrong way, you can sympathize with these two. Every time they encounter one another they throw auditory barbs and malicious words at each other. But some people see this verbal abuse as great sexual tension.
Their friends make a bet that they can get them to fall in love...a task that might be easier than you would imagine.
Of course, there's more to the play than that—there's Claudio and Hero and a compilation of twisted princes and evil subjects—but you'll have to read the book yourself if you want the full experience.
What I like about "Much Ado About Nothing" is how Whedon uses a lot of new faces to convey his story. These aren't A-listers, but they can still act. The problem is that none of them felt like Shakespearean actors and the great author's words get lost in overacting and mumbling. Take Alexis Denisof for instance—he's incredibly awkward to watch and he delivers his lines in such full form that it made me wish he wasn't even a character in the movie...too bad he's the lead. To be fair, I think Whedon had a hand in making him this way; but I wouldn't blame either of them entirely for the performance.
The most enjoyable performance was Nathan Fillion as a clueless cop—and this is saying a lot because I usually hold Fillion is such high disdain that he's only accompanied by such "great" (here meaning "terrible") actors as Nicolas Cage, Tobey Maguire, and John Cusack. But here, like all three previously named have done, he surprises me. He is the best part of the movie—funny, naive, and completely invested. You believe in his character. I've seen stage productions of this play and they always turn Fillion's character, Dogberry, into a shouty and predictable mess. Fillion is much more reserved in his stupidity...and he's hilarious.
I think the best actor in the film is Amy Acker as Beatrice, though she has her moments where she's not that great. Unlike Denisof, she brings a charm to the overacting and physical stunts that the movie demands. But in the end, it's all a little too slapstick to feel like genuine Shakespeare.
Perhaps that the point—to be perfectly un-Shakepeare...but simply by using the original script, you can't pull that off.
Whedon made a valiant, stylish, and entertaining effort. I can't deny the film's flaws; but I can't deny that I really enjoyed the movie, regardless.

Score: 3 stars out of 4

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