One of the greatest pleasures of Joss Whedon’s work is hearing the banter between characters, thus a Whedon movie not written by him could be a disappointment – unless his substitute happens to be William Shakespeare.
Essentially filmed as the antithesis of The Avengers, Much Ado About Nothing finds Whedon spending as little money as possible holding a reading with a bunch of his friends. The entire production is done in-house for Whedon, in that it was done literally in his house. This mostly works, the exception being times when the setting is supposed to be somewhere other than a private residence, such as the police station that could only look more like a pantry if a maid came in looking for potatoes. However, as with Shakespearean poetry itself, once the limitations and quirks are accepted, the film’s strengths become abundantly clear.
In fact, if Much Ado has any major faults, they’re in how the source material lends itself to melodrama and inherent silliness, a charge that is only true because of the archaic nature of Shakespeare’s writing compared to what is commonplace in modern times. The silliness is often handled in delightful ways with both Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof turning in verbally and physically dexterous performances that suitably show just how far their characters are yanked from themselves. The melodrama, however, can at times be throwing, but becomes as acceptable as the audience is willing to allow. It’s a credit to the quality of the film, and particularly to every one of the actors, that the anachronistic dialogue does not feel forced. Often even when the quirks and quips of the writing aren’t immediately clear, the cast sells it through subtle gestures or facial expressions, a sign that they aren’t just reading lines but actually conversing, at times relishing, in the language.
Even within the limitations of a micro-budget and dated dialogue (Beatrice’s pining about what she’d do were she a man particularly so), there’s a tremendous feeling of playfulness and freedom within the film. It’s the idea that a low stakes movie, a jaunty break from big money, big pressure filmmaking, leaves the director and actors free to genuinely let loose and enjoy what they’re doing. And it’s this enjoyment, often of language itself, which makes Shakespeare endure and makes Much Ado, even without the Whedonisms, such a pleasure to watch. [subscribe2]