Joss Whedon must have been in the mood for some quality relaxation time, once the final day of principal photography on The Avengers drew to a close. However, he passed on a planned month-long vacation in favor of shooting a modern indie take on William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. The self-funded, black-and-white project was filmed in secret at Whedon’s Santa Monica home over 12 days, with a cast populated by familiar Whedon-verse players.
The scrappy venture premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival this past week, generating enthusiastic chatter amongst most attendees. It comes as little surprise, then, that Whedon’s Shakespearean adaptation has been acquired for North American distribution by Lionsgate.
Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing is headlined by Angel and Dollhouse alum Amy Acker, as well as her Angel costar Alexis Denisof (who also played Thanos’ henchman in The Avengers). The cast is rounded out by Whedon’s Firefly pals Nathan Fillion, Sean Maher, fan-fave Marvel Movie Universe actor Clark Gregg, Reed Diamond (Dollhouse), Cabin in the Woods‘ Fran Kranz (another Dollhouse vet), newcomer Jillian Morgese, and The Killing‘s Ashley Johnson (“The Waitress” in Avengers). Here’s the official synopsis:
The film follows Claudio (Kranz) and Benedick (Denisof ) who have just returned home to Messina after a successful campaign abroad. When earnest Claudio announces his adoration for the lovely Hero (Morgese), daughter of Messina’s governor Leonato (Gregg), the acid-tongued Benedick teases him mercilessly. Benedick’s scorn for love is matched by that of his long-time nemesis and verbal sparring partner Beatrice (Acker), Leonato’s niece. As the lovestruck Claudio and Hero make plans to marry, Benedick and Beatrice resume the “merry war” of insults they have long waged. Yet there are many who believe that for all their antagonism — or even because of it — this pair of incessantly sniping cynics is surely meant to be a couple. As matchmaking schemes are put into play and disguises are donned, loathing and love soon prove to be close cousins.
Much Ado About Nothing is generating buzz as a charming home-made variation of the Bard’s farcical romance. The simple aesthetic (dichromatic cinematography, non-artificial setting) is praised as a refreshing change-of-pace, while the hip tone and brisk comedy are a break from lifeless mainstream rom-coms. Much Ado About Nothing, by comparison, feels like a bunch of friends got together and had fun making a movie (but not in a self-satisfied, Ocean’s Twelve sort of way).
The ensemble is earning critical kudos for their efforts, with Acker and Denisof identified as likable spins on Shakespeare’s cynical leads. However, Fillion is being singled out as the highlight among his peers. Hitfix dubs the Castle star’s take on the constable Dogberry as “hilarious,” while NPR goes so far to half-jokingly state that “Fillion should quite possibly play nothing but Shakespearean law enforcement officers for the remainder of his career.”
Much Ado About Nothing marks the second recent collaboration between Lionsgate and Whedon, as the studio was also behind this year’s genre-subverting horror flick Cabin in the Woods (which Whedon co-wrote and produced). The latter’s wit is present and accounted for in his press release statement on Lionsgate also picking up the rights to Much Ado About Nothing:
“I’m thrilled to be working with my cronies at Lionsgate again, and with The Roadside team. That they all embrace a Shakespearean romance with the same enthusiasm they had for ‘Cabin in the Woods’ shows that they’re exactly the mad fools we want to be partying – I mean working – with.”
Lionsgate President of Acquisitions and Co-Productions Jason Constantine likewise voiced his public excitement at the chance to reteam with Whedon, asking “Who else can tackle horror, superheroes and Shakespeare all in one year?” Of course, devout Whedonites – this writer is included in their ranks – can brag that they’ve known the answer for years now.
Look for a Much Ado About Nothing trailer to drop in the foreseeable future, along with an official release date.