Wednesday, July 10, 2013

SHAKESPEARE MONTH!!!! Joss Whedon's "Much Ado About Nothing"

So… I’ve decided to sort of do something a little different this month. My wife is going to be appearing in the local production of Macbeth, Joss Whedon released his anticipated adaptation of “Much Ado About Nothing”, and I’m a little bit bored out of my mind. So I’m going to focus this months reviews in the realm of the Bard himself, William Shakespeare.

Much Ado About Nothing

Kenneth Branaghs’ “Much Ado About Nothing” was my first positive experience with Shakespeare, the first time I remember truly enjoying a movie based on the Bard’s work and it provided me with a very deep love for classic literature to this day. What makes it so special, for me, is that it’s completely unlike anything people would normally associate with my taste… there’s really no violent conflict, there’s no blood, there’s no guts, there’s no horror… it’s just a frivolous love story between two very different couples; the young, hopeful, and largely innocent Claudio with his Hero and the cynical, barbed tongue battle of wits between Benedick and Beatrice. The latter couple carry much of the shows drama and comedy as they are both manipulated by their friends and family into exposing their true feelings for one another. It’s my favorite of the Shakespeare comedies, followed by The Tempest and The Taming of the Shrew (Macbeth being my favorite tragedy, followed by Romeo and Juliet).  With that said…

Joss Whedon is responsible for some of my favorite recent “genre” films, which include the sci-fi masterpiece of Firefly and the motion picture conclusion, Serenity. I largely enjoyed “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, though I’m not a huge fan like some other friends of mine. I thought his take on The Avengers was spot on and represented the idea of people who do not get along eventually coming together for a common purpose. It carried a much more dramatic flair than he was given credit for. “Cabin in the Woods” was brilliantly written and has his fingerprints all over the production, though another director takes the credit for execution. I’m not a fan of Dollhouse. Sue me.

Now, color me a little excited to see a new adaptation of “Much Ado About Nothing” with Joss Whedon at the helm. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen an adaptation of this particular play… let’s be honest, here, it’s not one of the plays I see getting advertised at any local or anywhere nearby theaters.  I can go back and watch the 1992 version whenever I want, but I would like to see some new spins on a few of the performances.  I usually find it hard to sympathize with Claudio regarding some modern sensibilities, so a new take on various characters would be nice to see. I also enjoyed the story of how the film came about, too… about a week of filming during a break in shooting The Avengers, mostly with friends and a skeleton crew and little preparation? Whedon would have parties where he and a group of friends would just sit around and do a read through on Shakespeare… cool, huh? That kind of appeals to my “low budget, independent” sensibilities. Managing to find a babysitter was a little rough, but I eventually made my way to the local “art house” theater in Monterey and caught a little screening with a soda in one hand and chocolate covered raisins in the other.

Whedon takes a somewhat “modern” approach to the material, setting the story in a sort of contemporary time while maintaining the feudal lord aspect of the story itself. We’re asked to sort of suspend disbelief here and Whedon takes another bold approach by filming entirely without color. Despite these small changes, the story largely remains the same as the visiting Prince Don Pedro attends the home of his good friend, Leonato. He’s accompanied by his right and left hand men, the youthful Claudio and the cynical Benedick. All three are accompanied by the far less willing Don Jon, rebellious brother to the Pedro, and his two companions, Conrade and Boracio, all of whom are just brimming with terrible intentions.

Alex Denisof and Amy Acker manage to gather brilliant chemistry and deliver stellar performances as Benedick and Beatrice. Their barbed tongue fly with cynical wit, cutting one another brilliantly. Whedon stalwart regular, Nathan Fillion, turns in a brilliantly comedic performance as the bumbling master of the watch, Dogberry. But, and I would rarely say this regarding this particular story, it’s Fran Kranz’s “Claudio” who absolutely steals the movie with his affection for Hero. Why would I rarely say this? Because Claudio is largely a huge dripping wang whose regard for Hero seems far less than genuine in most adaptations of the work. Whedon takes a chance here and offers some physical direction not seen in the text, his manner much more the heartbroken cuckold than the petulant child seen in Branagh’s version. In fact, I usually found myself cheering for Benedick during their confrontation and hoping to see these two duel whenever I saw the ’92 version… in this, I see two men driven by their affections for loved ones and Claudio is so shattered and torn apart that he’s looking to take it out on anyone. He’s not the hesitant coward as he’s so often been described, but a heartbroken fool in mourning. It’s a different take on the character than I’m used to and one that both Kranz and Whedon made work without changing the actual text.

If Whedon’s version has any drawback, it’s where some characters are combined or completely dismissed in favor of the narrative as it stands. This is only a drawback to Shakespeare “die hards” who maybe wanted to see a much more complete version, but Whedons’ is a little more streamlined within the limits set by budget and shooting schedule. This didn’t in any way affect my enjoyment of the film, but I want to at least offer a complete view and anticipate where some may feel the movie falls short.

Shakespeare is not exactly my usual forte’ in writing reviews, it’s not the usual kind of show I seem to attend, so my faceless readers may feel this particular review jumps the shark. To them I offer only this; get over it. I write about what I experience, what I like to write about, and that’s all there is to it.

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