Guys, I finally saw Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing. After more than a year of waiting, after all the hours I’ve spent binge-watching the trailers, and after all the frustrating “This movie is not currently playing in your area” messages from Fandango, I drove an hour and a half to a small theatre in the middle of New Jersey and saw it.
There has been so much praise surrounding this movie, I went in with unrealistically high expectations. After seeing it, however, I must admit I left feeling an inexplicable disappointment. The film was charming, clever, simple, sweet, gorgeous. I felt myself smiling throughout, but never quite laughing-out-loud – which I find surprising in Much Ado. And it wasn’t until I began writing this “review” that I realized what threw me off: I was expecting a play, not a film.
Joss created a version of this play that was so simplistic and bare bones that the theatrical techniques often used to gain laughs from a physical audience just wouldn’t be necessary or appropriate on film. This isn’t to say that the film isn’t funny – this is far from the case. Nathan Fillion as Dogberry is nothing short of delightful. He is hands-down the best Dogberry I’ve ever seen on film or stage. Fillion’s Dogberry isn’t bright, but he is incredibly proud, and incredibly eager. Such a joy to watch. And laugh-out-loud worthy.
Let me get my small critiques out of the way: I was disappointed by the lack of diversity in the cast; I find this surprising especially considering Joss’s affinity for diverse characters in his work. While I understand this was a film made quick and dirty, I would have liked to see a more assorted cast.
My biggest critique, though, has to be Alex Denisof’s Benedick. He does the job fine, but he feels a bit stiff as our witty charmer, and fails to keep up with Amy Acker’s sharp Beatrice. Their banter is amusing, but Acker shines far brighter and shows more depth overall. I can trace Beatrice’s transformation from disdain to love simply by the glow on her face, where Denisof’s Benedick remains fairly one-noted. I don’t see how his affections for her differ at the end of the film from their previous one-night stand (which was shown in the very beginning of the film). Whedon’s interpretation is so minimal that Benedick’s missteps left a noticeable dent in the fabric of the film.
This film is nearly the complete opposite of Kenneth Branagh’s 1993 Much Ado. Where Branagh’s is lush and busy, Whedon’s is intimate and understated. The entire film twinkles with its black and white filter and smooth jazz composed by Whedon himself. I personally coined the term “cool smokiness” at dinner that night when describing it. It’s just that awesome, guys.
It’s incredible, really. Whedon cut nearly an hour of the play in his creation, yet he manages to still present a complete and deep understanding of the characters and plot. In short, this film is wickedly sexy, and you need to see it. Even if it means driving to the middle of New Jersey.
Check out Whedon narrating the scene where Beatrice discovers Benedick loves her on The New York Times website here. He notes that this scene is typically staged as a “pale echo” of Benedick’s over-the-top discovery. However, he promptly squashes that tradition and makes this scene just as wonderful, if not more so, than Benedick’s.