A description of the project will pretty much tell you if you’re interested or not: Directed by Joss Whedon, Much Ado About Nothing uses the original Shakespearean text in a black-and-white version filmed in his home. The cast will be familiar to Whedon fans — Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof (both Angel) are Beatrice and Benedick, the wittily spatting couple who never shut up. Clark Gregg (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) is host Leonato, while Reed Diamond (Franklin & Bash, but also Dollhouse) is the visiting lord and Sean Maher (Firefly) the captured Don John.
The older, marriage-hating Benedick has a new friend in Claudio (Fran Kranz, Dollhouse), who is enamored of Hero (newcomer Jillian Morgese), Leonato’s daughter. The two aim to marry, only for their plans to be interrupted by the maliciously spiteful Don John (who thankfully disappears before the end). For comic relief, halfway into the film, Nathan Fillion appears as the pompous security officer Dogberry, assisted by Tom Lenk (Buffy the Vampire Slayer).
The photography is beautiful, and the black-and-white cinematography suits the authentic language. I was particularly taken by Whedon’s arrangement of “Sigh No More” (the “hey nonny nonny” song) during the wonderful party scene, which in monochrome has an air of old-fashioned glamour. The casting works, although much as I enjoy watching Denisof, I’m not sure he really qualifies as a romantic lead. He doesn’t always draw the eye (although I was quite impressed at his monologue done while running up and down the stairs). The troupe does a terrific job with the text overall, speaking it naturally.
Much of the plot, particularly the drawn-together-while-insulting-each-other Benedick and Beatrice, feels current when done in suits and modern dress, but the ending is still difficult for today’s viewers to swallow. Hero is wrongly thought unfaithful, which in the past was a much greater sin. It’s unclear why everyone so worries about it today. However, the plot where the older men, Claudio, and Hero decide to get Beatrice and Benedick together by telling each that the other has declared first, is quite fun. (And fangirlish: I originally left the theater thinking that it was nice to finally see Fred and Wesley get their happy ending.)
The home release of Much Ado About Nothing comes with two commentaries — one with Whedon alone, the other with him and cast members — as well as two featurettes and a music video for “Sigh No More”. The extras, while not extensive, are in keeping with the tone of the movie, and any fan of the film will enjoy them.
The cast commentary includes Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Reed Diamond, Fran Kranz, Clark Gregg, and a bunch more people whose names I didn’t catch. It sounds like a party much of the time, particularly since they’re drinking every time someone drinks on-screen. My favorite participant was Reed, who gives some insight from his classical actor training, but there are all kinds of entertaining mentions about the filming process amongst the chatter.
“Much Ado About Making Nothing” (22 minutes) is the usual behind-the-scenes piece: Joss Whedon telling us where the idea came from, various actors on how they got involved, and crew explaining the choices (such as the black and white tone). It’s a charming piece, much in keeping with the “hey, kids, let’s put on a show! we can use my house!” feeling of the production.
“Bus Ado About Nothing” (6 minutes) is about the cast taking a bus trip from LA to Austin, Texas, for a film festival. Funny! The video features a full performance by the trapeze acrobats (impressive!) as the song plays.
I originally left the film thinking I didn’t have much to say about it, but I’m very glad to have a copy to rewatch, because it’s quite the enjoyable production. (The studio provided a review copy.)