Much Ado About Nothing
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I have a dark secret to confess: despite being a lifelong lover of literature and earning a degree in English, I’ve never really cared for Shakespeare’s plays. The only one that I truly loved was Much Ado About Nothing—and The Avengers director Joss Whedon’s low-budget adaptation of the play captures everything I’ve always loved about the classic rom-com.

Whedon’s Much Ado takes the play’s original language and places it in a modern setting, filmed entirely in black and white. The classic story follows two would-be couples on the thorny path through denial and deception on their way to true love. When Reed Diamond’s Don Pedro and his men return from battle, Benedick (Alexis Denisof) finds himself embroiled in a battle of wits with sharp-tongued Beatrice (Amy Acker), while Claudio (Fran Kranz) finds himself enamored of Hero (Jillian Morgese), the beautiful daughter of their wealthy host, Leonato (Clark Gregg). And as friends and family plot to bring Beatrice and Benedick together, Don Pedro’s troublemaking brother, Don John (Sean Maher), plots to tear Claudio and Hero apart.

  
 
In 1993, Kenneth Branagh directed an unforgettable adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing, complete with grand period sets and a remarkable cast. This is not Branagh’s Much Ado. Whedon’s version is simple and stripped-down, a low-budget passion project filmed on the fly in the director’s own home with a bunch of his friends—most of whom are unrecognizable to anyone who hasn’t seen Whedon’s popular TV series. But it’s that simple, stripped-down style that allows the play’s original brilliance to shine through.

Without fancy sets or big-name actors, Whedon’s Much Ado is free to focus on the story—and the Bard’s witty wordplay. For the most part, the cast does an excellent job of making the sometimes tricky Shakespearian language work, conveying the story as much through their actions as through their words. Denisof gives an amusing performance as confirmed bachelor Benedick, delivering his lines with the right amount of over-confidence and absurdity—and Acker’s snappy delivery of her own quick-witted banter makes her Beatrice a worthy adversary for his Benedick. Kranz, meanwhile, is so charming as Claudio that you’ll feel for him when everything begins to crumble around him.

But, of course, Whedon plays no small part in the film’s success. His adaptation of the play, while abridged from the original, generally leaves the dialogue untouched. Instead of rewriting the story in his own words, he gives the non-verbal direction his own personal touches, further developing the characters and adding both humor and drama through little things that play out in the background—whether it’s a conga line at a party, a scene’s clever setting, or the subtle movements of one of his extras.

This isn’t a big, splashy adaptation of the Bard’s classic rom-com—and if you’re expecting it to be Shakespeare, superhero style, you’ll be completely baffled by this modest modern-day depiction. But Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing is simple and intimate and irresistibly charming—a fittingly fun-filled take on my favorite Shakespearian play.


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