‘Much Ado About Nothing’ Review

Published 2 years ago by , Updated November 15th, 2014 at 12:35 am,

Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker in Much Ado About Nohting  Much Ado About Nothing Review

Much Ado About Nothing is a faithful, pleasant and enjoyable small-scale production of Shakespeare’s classic. If you are in for the experiment, you’ll likely be charmed by the result.

Much Ado About Nothing is William Shakespeare’s classic comedic play about the nature of falling in love and the resulting social politics that come with noble marriages. The story centers on two pairs of lovers: Count Claudio (Fran Kranz), who is lovestruck upon laying eyes upon virtuous Hero (Jillian Morgese), the daughter of nobleman Leonato (Clark Gregg); and on the other side of things, jilted ex-lovers Beatrice (Amy Acker) and Benedick (Alexis Denisof), sworn enemies of love who nonetheless trade witty insults like an old married couple.

When the royal Don Pedro (Reed Diamond) visits Leonato’s home, he sees an opportunity to play matchmaker twice over; however, the prince’s disgraced brother, Don John (Sean Maher), schemes in secret to murder love and happiness by casting the shadow of disgrace on chaste and innocent Hero, thereby sparking events that could transform love into tragedy.

Like Baz Luhrmann (Romeo + Juliet) and Michael Almereyda (Hamlet 2000) before him, Whedon makes the bold choice to juxtapose Shakespeare’s lyrical prose against modern day characters and events – which, in the case of the aforementioned pair of films, yielded distinctly mixed results. Thankfully for audiences, Whedon has a clear grasp of what makes this particular Shakespearean opus so indelible, and is subsequently able to represent the story in proper spirit, while still getting to put his signature “Whedonesque” spin on it.

 Much Ado About Nothing Review

While the words in the screenplay are the product of Shakespeare’s hand, the context of each scene is carefully crafted by Whedon. The modern-day interpretation proves to be inviting, as the director finds perfectly relatable (and often very humorous) visual cues and physical humor that will help even the most  ‘Shakespeare-impaired’ viewer interpret the humor, wit and insight contained within The Bard’s  Olde English prose.

It is admittedly jarring, at first, to hear such heightened language being exchanged so casually in a modern setting, but the ear adjusts soon enough and things roll smoothly from there on out. Of course, if the words “Iambic pentameter” are important to you (Shakespeare purists), then hearing Whedon’s cast recite the words according to their own speech rhythms and with their own mannerisms is not going to be a pleasant experience. Similarly, if you are the type who can’t stand when a modern Shakespeare movie insists on keeping that ‘funny old language,’ then you are clearly not the audience that Whedon and Co. are aiming for, and this movie is not going to satisfy. To even begin to engage with the film, one must be open to the experiment taking place and give the director and his cast a credible chance to put their stamp on the material; in the end, you’ll likely be glad you did.

Tom Lenk and Nathan Fillion in Much Ado About Nothing Much Ado About Nothing Review

Tom Lenk and Nathan Fillion in ‘Much Ado About Nothing’

On a directorial level, this stripped-down black and white film (which was shot over twelve days in Whedon’s Santa Monica home) is ironically enough one of the more visually captivating films that Whedon has made. Perhaps it was the familiarity with his own home and environment, but there are many clever shots (see: the header image to this review) and visual metaphors packed into the seemingly simple proceedings – not to mention, enough flattering landscape and/or architectural shots to make Whedon’s house look like an enviable party destination/resort. While Avengers may have created the perception of Joss Whedon as the Michael Bay of geek filmmaking, Much Ado About Nothing reminds that underneath all that fame and flash there is still a very unique and talented filmmaker, who knows how to infuse his work with what is clearly personal admiration and love for the material.

Aiding in that celebration of the work is a cast of familiar (yet still very talented) actors from the “Whedonverse,” whom longtime fans of the filmmaker will certainly recognize. Alexis Denisof (Angel) and Amy Acker (Dollhouse) are pitch-perfect as the primary characters, Beatrice and Benedick, showing great wit and understanding of the finer points of the material in their delivery; great chemistry in their interactions with one another; and, like true Elizabethan-era theater actors, a healthy dose of physical comedy and slapstick as well. Acker in particular is great about giving Shakespeare’s depiction of a free-thinking, independent and spirited woman a modern interpretation, keeping her depiction both timely and timeless in its appeal. 

Joss Whedons Much Ado About Nohting Review starring Clark Gregg Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker Much Ado About Nothing Review

Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker in ‘Much Ado About Nothing’

The rest of the cast is just as talented (with the exception of Morgese, who has the hint of a newcomer’s deer-in-the-headlights stiffness) – and more importantly, they seem to be having fun.  The greatest appeal of this iteration of Much Ado About Nothing  is the sense of camaraderie and comfort between the cast and crew. This movie has the intimacy and carefree nature of a group of friends getting together to make a movie – purely for the enjoyment of it – and that pleasure is infectious. The segments with Tom Lenk and Nathan Fillion (as bumbling lawmen Verges and Dogberry) is like watching Shakespearean Laurel & Hardy at its best. Clark Gregg is both hilarious and dramatic, and there is even a hint of sexuality in the mix, thanks to the villain squad of Riki Lindhome (as Conrade), Spencer Treat Clark (as Borachio), Sean Maher (as Don Jon) and their patsy Ashley Johnson (as Margaret).

All in all, Much Ado About Nothing is a faithful, pleasant and enjoyable small-scale production of Shakespeare’s classic. If you are in for the experiment, you’ll likely be charmed by the result.

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Much Ado About Nothing is now playing in theaters. It is 107 min and is Rated PG-13 for sexuality and brief drug use.

Our Rating:

4 out of 5

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  1. My ears didnt adjust very well to the dialouge, but i enjoyed it

  2. I’m going this weekend!! I think it’s playing at the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood. A very limited release.

  3. I enjoyed the film very much and yes, I wanted to jump into that party.

  4. Wow, very positive review!

  5. …Shakespeare’s lyrical prose…

    If Shakespeare ever committed to paper any prose, none of it is known today. All of the bard’s plays are in verse.

    While the words in the screenplay are the product of Shakespeare’s hand…. Of course, if the words “Iambic pentameter” are important to you (Shakespeare purists), then hearing Whedon’s cast recite the words according to their own speech rhythms and with their own mannerisms is not going to be a pleasant experience.

    Do you know what “iambic pentameter” is? This strongly suggests that you do not. If Shakespeare’s words are in the film, unaltered, then (unless the actors affect very odd accents) they’re iambic, regardless of the “more modern” delivery. English is English, and if the bard’s words are carried through unaltered, the only thing that will make their delivery unpleasant is if the performances are simply bad. Which, you say, they are not.

    • The only reason this reinterpretation of Shakespear’s “Much Ado About Nothing” is given a review here is simply because Joss Whedon directed it.

      I do not think it is wrong or incorrect in saying this.

    • I seem to recall Iambic Pentameter describing the way the accented syllables in the lines will alternate between receiving emphasis and not, so if you don’t deliver them in a measured way or speak it too quickly or casually I could see how the intended delivery that Iambic Pentameter is supposed to be written for could be lost, even if the lines are still delivered with good acting by modern standards.

      Also many of the lower class characters in Shakespeare do speak in prose while the upper class typically speaks in verse. ^_^;; Hoping to go see this either way, I admit this is all from memory from classes some years ago.

  6. good review; will go see. I like the Kenneth Branagh version a lot, too from 1993.

    • Two quick notes- Shakespeare wrote Modern English; he didn’t write Old English. Old English is Beowulf. It has its own characters / letters. You need special training to read it. Almost all of Shakespeare’s plays are a mix of prose and verse. One (Richard II) is entirely in verse, and another (The Merry Wives of Windsor) is entirely in prose. Blank verse = unrhymed iambic pentameter; it’s a ten syllable line with accents on the even numbered syllables as in “But soft! What light through yonder window breaks?” or “I’d really like to have another beer!” Much Ado is mostly written in prose. Hero and Claudio generally speak in verse and Beatrice and Benedick generally speak in prose, though all four use both forms at some point, I believe. Hope this clarifies things a bit…

      • Your explination of the narrative structure sounds more interesting than the film Joe. You should do a lecture tour. Your Box Office will beat the films for sure.

  7. Joss Whedon is our master now…

    Ironic that Much Ado and Marvel now share two directors. Branagh’s version had an excellent cast (although I wasn’t thrilled with Keanu’s performance as Don John), and as much as I like Nation Fillion (Malcolm Reynolds is “the Captain,” now and forever), he’s going to have to nail the role to outperform Michael Keaton’s Dogberry.

    That said, I can not wait to see this.

    • I agree. The only downside to Branagh’s version was Keanu Reeves, but it is still an amazing movie. Having seen Whedon’s version I truly cannot decide who is better as Dogberry – Keaton or Fillion. They both made the role their own; neither is better than the other, just different and individual and thoroughly enjoyable in context of their respective versions

  8. Aw, sh*t! Whedon kept the original text?! I thought he would put this bombastic language of old to rest and apply his trademark witty dialogue style to the story. He has such a delightful pen and I was really looking forward to it (well, that and seeing the delicious Amy Acker again)…

  9. I have just come back from the cinema after watching this and thoroughly enjoyed the movie, more than IM3, Star Trek and Man of Steel combined. It really does prove my theory that sometimes the worst thing you can do for a movie is give it a big budget. This stripped back movie version of Shakespeare’s comedy is a wonderfully shot, engaging and thoroughly enjoyable viewing experience.

    I enjoyed Brannagh’s version in 1993 (Denzel Washington should definitely do more Shakespeare). While this version may be as faithful to the play in terms of the dialogue, it is the casting that really makes the movie come alive (and as a fan of Whedon it was really great seeing so many of his “regulars” on the screen at the same time). The casting was spot on, especially Amy Acker. She is a very underrated actress (in terms of being known to a wider audience) but, in my opinion, delivers a performance far more interesting and nuanced than Emma Thompson did in 1993.

    In this day and age of multi-million pound budgeted blockbusters, it was nice to watch a movie that thoroughly engaged you because of the acting and the story and not how long was spent on the CGI. In the long run I do believe that this modern adaptation of the Bard’s play will be viewed more favourably than the glitz and glamour of Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo & Juliet.

    For those of you who are not a fan of Shakespeare’s language, you will not find it difficult to follow the plot and the comedy moments are very lol funny. I cannot recommend this movie enough. Go see it ASAP.

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