The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 24.0297 Monday, 17 June 2013
Date: June 16, 2013 1:23:00 PM EDT
Subject: Economist Review of Whedon’s New Much Ado
A complimentary review of the newest version of Much Ado:
who will have to wait for the Blu-Ray or for Netflix/Hulu Plus to see it, since there are no movie theatres around here w/in an hour.
The following is from the Economist online.
New film: “Much Ado About Nothing”
Blithe and bonny
Jun 14th 2013, 11:29 by F.S.
IF Joss Whedon, a film director, demonstrated extraordinary skill with his hugely successful 2012 blockbuster “The Avengers”, it was less for his understanding of superheroes than for his ability to work an ensemble cast so that each actor shines. It is a skill he employs to equal effect in the film “Much Ado About Nothing”, his carefree but not careless adaptation of what is perhaps the Bard’s greatest comedy. Productions of this play tend to concentrate on the would-be lovers Benedick and Beatrice almost to the exclusion of all else. But here the wit and tragedy of the other stories join them on centre stage, and the film is all the better for it.
Set in modern-day California and shot in black and white, the film was independently funded and shot in just 12 days at Mr Whedon’s own home. Most of the original text has made it into the script. The players have been invited for a weekend masquerade party that involves drinking cocktails in the swimming pool, sipping Merlot in open-plan kitchens and listening to a jaunty rendition of “Sigh No More” (better known as “Hey Nonny Nonny”) that will have audiences humming it for days afterwards. Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof are our Beatrice and Benedick, the rancorous pair whose friends are plotting to match make against their knowledge, and they are fizzing with energy. Ms Acker in particular is a delight, full of easy confidence. For ardent fans of the classic 1993 film starring Kenneth Branagh as a classically thespian Benedick, Mr Denisof may initially come across as a touch too flippant. But the chemistry between the two is undeniable, particularly as the story progresses—which is, of course, just as it should be.”
Clark Gregg, who played Agent Phil Coulson in “The Avengers”, deserves special mention as the affable governor Leonato, as graceful a host as one could hope for. In “Much Ado” it is crucial, too, that we care what happens to Claudio and Hero, the rather hapless couple on whose happiness that of Benedick and Beatrice also depends, though this is a subplot that is often neglected. Here it is well done: Fran Kranz and Jillian Morgese are not as simpering as some earlier incarnations and are believable as a couple. Every character feels real.
The cast is populated almost exclusively with regulars from Mr Whedon’s television shows and films: “Angel”, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, “The Cabin in the Woods” and “The Avengers”. Not only does this mean that this low-budget flick had a ready made and rather unusual audience (Mr Whedon’s shows had a cult following long before he became a household name; a preview screening was clearly packed to the rafters with hardcore sci-fi fans), it also lends it the playful, rather casual tone of a TV show. Shakespeare’s darker musings on fidelity, gender and love are still here, but they are treated with such a light touch that you may forget them. Whether audiences think this is a good or bad thing will vary, but certainly this is one of the funniest adaptations in a long time. This is big comedy in the way that early audiences might have enjoyed the play, with slick slapstick and absurd visual humour. One of the biggest laughs comes when we see our male heroes housed in rooms clearly intended for little girls, complete with ribbons and dollhouses.
Nonetheless, this is still a very contemporary interpretation, from its breezy attitude to its modern-day context, including the suggestion (inferred in Shakespeare’s text but made explicit here) that Benedick and Beatrice have been lovers before. Not everything works—the heavy focus on female chastity has long felt antiquated, for instance. But this is an intuitive production that is likely to draw new audiences to the Bard in the way that Baz Luhrmann’s fiercely modern “Romeo + Juliet” did in 1996. Its greatest strength is its natural pace and easy repartee. Now if only Hollywood would consider funding Mr Whedon to take on another adaptation of classic literature. Or would a bigger budget ruin the fun?
"Much Ado About Nothing" is out now in America and is in cinemas in Britain on June 14th