Angel fans, rejoice!! Fred and Wesley have finally gotten their happily ever after!!! Ok, not really—but I still felt a little twinge of rightness in the casting of Benedick and Beatrice in Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing. Here’s the good, the bad, and the ugly of this film according to me.
The first scene made me instantly cringe and prepare for a long hour and a half—awkward speech and several actors deliberately not looking at the camera gave me that “indie” feeling—but the instant that Alexis Denisoff (Benedick) opened his mouth—the second scene he was in, for those counting—all anxiety fled. This man was made for the boards! His delivery was spot on, and his facial expressions and body language completely clarified any contextual issues in a form of English that is five centuries old.
Amy Acker sparkled as the witty, aggressive Beatrice. It is a character that can easily appear abrasive, but that is not a word that can ever be applied to Acker. The dynamic between these two characters completely overtakes the primary plotline, which is the rocky road to marriage for Claudio and Hero.
Whedon, unable to leave his mark on the script, instead brands his work with brilliant direction and non-speaking asides. Notably, Beatrice mocks Benedick during an interlude by a fire pit, and repeatedly brushes away the amorous advances of the man sitting next to her with barely a thought; Leonato, worn out by a two day bender, falls asleep in the middle of Claudio’s formal request for his daughter’s hand, and is sharply woken by Beatrice; the watchmen, recast as Don Pedro’s private security, lock their keys in their car and become frantic. Another brilliant move was in casting Conrade, henchman of Don John, as a woman. This allowed for an interesting twist in their relationship (pun entirely intended), and made Don John appear even more depraved.
I occasionally felt that the dialogue could have been enunciated more clearly—several lines were lost in conversation—but considering how meticulous the Bard was about infusing his plays with tongue-twisters and puns, this is understandable.
The fact that the entire film is clearly a summer party and that it was filmed in the director’s own house, gives it a feeling of intimacy that is unusual for Shakespeare. Ultimately, I left the theater feeling not as though I had just watched a Shakespearean play, but that I had just watched a group of funny, witty people carry out a party weekend in Elizabethan English. Very funny, very witty people—and I want so badly to be friends with all of them. Much Ado About Nothing is sweet, sexy, subtle, and smart. I highly recommend it.
“The play’s the thing…” Yes it is, my dear Joss, yes it is.
Four out of five death stars.