Much Ado About Nothing: All’s Well That Involves Whedon

06/05/2013 4:00 AM |

Much Ado About Nothing
Directed by Joss Whedon

It’s not uncommon for a blockbuster director to decompress in between mega-installments of maxi-franchises, but director Whedon’s Shakespeare adaptation nonetheless represents a significant timeout from The Avengers. In a sense, it finds the writer-director staying in his wheelhouse; virtually every member of the ensemble is a veteran of a Whedon production, the cast drawn from some of the least-famous faces to appear on Buffy, Angel, Firefly, and Dollhouse (and yet Carlos Jacott fails to turn up!). The biggest name is a toss-up between Nathan Fillion (as Dogberry) and sole Avengers alum Clark Gregg (as Leonato), and neither of them plays major roles; those go to Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof as the “merry” warriors and consummate witty bickerers Beatrice and Benedick.

As much as the cast and location signals a comfort zone (perhaps literally: the movie was shot in and around Whedon’s home in Santa Monica), the writer-director also works with a major handicap: not the low budget or the dreamy black-and-white cinematography but his decision to stick to Shakespeare’s original verbiage. The juxtaposition of modern dress with Elizabethan language isn’t new, but so much of Whedon’s style derives from his ability to craft character-revealing banter. Adapting the already banter-filled Much Ado paralyzes one of his strongest muscles, leaving him to wring additional laughs from the staging.

As with those formal-challenge Buffy episodes of yore, the film rises to the test. Beyond the cast’s able delivery of Shakespearean verse as well as more interpretative comic reactions (spit-takes, double takes, pratfalls), Whedon finds ways of revealing comic details within the frame: setting one despondent character in a childishly decorated bedroom, placing another behind glass doors to eavesdrop in pantomime. He also (along with, you know, Shakespeare) makes a winning heroine of long-time supporting player Acker. Denisof is less delightful; he’s done so well with a British accent on Buffy and Angel that it’s jarring to realize that his sonorous newscaster voice from a bit part on How I Met Your Mother is closer to his natural one—and not a perfect fit with the material. Still, for a low-budget house-party experiment, this Much Ado About Nothing has major polish.

Opens June 7