Mania Review: Much Ado about Nothing -

Mania Grade: B

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  • Starring: Alex Denisof, Amy Acker, Fran Kranz, Jillian Morgese, Clark Gregg, Nathan Fillion, and Reed Diamnond
  • Written by: William Shakespeare
  • Directed by: Joss Whedon
  • Studio: Roadside Attractions
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Run Time: 109 minutes
  • Series:

Mania Review: Much Ado about Nothing

Hey nonny nonny...

By Rob Vaux     June 07, 2013

Following my screening of Joss Whedon’s Much Ado about Nothing, one of my fellow critics used the unkind term “community college production.” Another one said “that’s kind of the point,” and it is. Shakespeare belongs to everyone, not just the Branaghs and Oliviers of the world. His language is magical, his stories resonant across the whole of human experience. We still perform them because they still speak to us – to Whedon no less than the RSC – and while bad productions certainly exist, they can’t dent the legacy that the greatest practitioner of the English language bequeathed to the ages.

So here sits another version of Much Ado, filmed at Whedon’s own house over the course of twelve days and definitely a little scruffy around the edges. Of the cast, only Clark Gregg and Alex Denisof feel at ease with the material, and while Whedon nails the tone, he can’t quite make the leap to a modern setting. On the other hand, such shortcomings don’t diminish his passion for this play, or the eager enthusiasm with which the company undertakes their duties. This feels for all the world like an intimate affair: a group of college buddies getting together to see what they can make of this play. It’s not always brilliant, but it is always heartfelt. And thankfully, Whedon make sure the audience feels welcome as well.

For the uninitiated, Much Ado is basically the god king of rom coms. Bickering duo Beatrice (Amy Acker) and Benedict (Denisof) had a fling once upon a time and it ended badly. They’re brought back together some time later very much against their will at the estate of Leonato (Gregg), where their friends conspire to hook them up again even as they hurl wicked verbal barbs at each other. They hate each other so much, it must be love… a formula copied by countless thousands of romantic tales ever since, none of which carry one-tenth the potency that this does.

A secondary couple provides the dramatic impetus, as their by-the-numbers courtship comes under duress thanks to the villainous Don John (Sean Maher). It’s much less interesting than the central romance, but it gives the plot something to do while the real purpose of the exercise engages in their delightful face off.  The problems of the subplot were inherent in the material and Whedon handles them with as much tact as anyone could expect.

The intimate setting further helps Much Ado, as does the black-and-white cinematography which eschews the pomp and circumstance normally associated with Shakespearean productions. That’s beneficial when considering Whedon’s presumed motivation: to do something intimate and simple after the sprawling blockbuster of The Avengers. The director’s fans are always happy to heap praise upon him he doesn’t entirely deserve, and his foray into Shakespearean territory provides him more cover than usual. How can we hate it? The script is great, the actors are game, and Whedon certainly knows his way around a camera. He also understands timing and delivery, without which his cast would largely be at sea and the production utterly lost.

As it stands, he gives us glimpses of the inspiration that helped define his career, something which speaks to his devotees as well as more casual viewers (like me) who never quite understood what all the fuss over him was about. It can’t hold a candle to Kenneth Branagh’s sumptuous 1993 production – which remains the definitive version of this tale – but again, that’s kind of the point. Whedon’s enthusiasm for the subject is no less than Branagh, and while he lacks the former’s polish and poise, he still evinces a deep understanding for what it’s all about. That, coupled with the comparatively modest ambitions, helps make this Much Ado a modest delight. More importantly, it reminds us again of the range and versatility of the material… something that 500 years has failed to blunt and which remains as accessible today as it was when it delighted audiences at the Globe. Whedon hasn’t created the best version of the tale, but he clearly understands what makes it tick. We don’t need anything more to plunge right into the fizzy cocktail served up before us. 


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samurai1138 6/7/2013 3:24:08 AM

 Looking forward to seeing what Whedon can bang out in 12 days. Release date? Or is this straight to vid? 

karas1 6/7/2013 4:11:25 AM

Branagh's version is one of my favorite films, the kind of film you drag out every 6 months or so to see again just because it delights you.  Anybody who hasn't seen it should definitely look it up.  The cast is fantastic and everybody is terific in it especially Michael Keaton.  Even Keneau Reeves gives it his all.  He's not good, but you can tell he trying really hard and having fun with it.

I'd love to see what Whedon and half the cast of Angel can do with it.

Wyldstaar 6/7/2013 8:25:15 AM

I've wanted to see this since I saw the trailer.  The release date is today, yet a moviefone search only turns up two theaters in LA, one in San Francisco and one New York.  I know it's not going to be in loads of theaters, but I was hoping for more than four.  This is Joss F'ING Wheddon!  There had better damn well be more cities to follow. 

blankczech 6/7/2013 8:28:19 AM

 Highest rated opening  this weekend on Rotten Tomatoes (by far)...the audience liked it even more than the critics.  Thought it might be a good movie to see with the girlfriend...but alas it's no where to be found ....all the giant movieplex's in the area are still showing Star Trek 2, Iron Man 3, Hangover 3, Fast and Furious 6, and others of that ilk (movies for little boys of all ages).   I've given up trying to con my girlfriend into accompanying me to "genre" movies.  I think the last one I dragged her to was The Cabin in the Woods.  I find that I can no longer stand that look she gives me when we leave the theatre (the one that says "I can't believe a grown man likes that stupid sh*t").

doublec 6/7/2013 3:35:02 PM

 Agree totally with Kara that the Branaagh version is truly one of may all time favorites too. A customer at the video store i was working at when it came out said "There's a lot of joy in this movie." That's the best description I've ever heard; simply one of the happiest movies ever.
All of which leads me to this new version. I respect the hell  out of joss Wheedon and his ability with an ensemble cast is legendary, so I have high expectations for this. The only quibble I have without having seen it is I'd've cast Nathan Fillion as Benedick rather then Dogberry. He does a stuffed shirt with a heart of gold very well.  But looking forward to seeing this regardless.



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