For some people, the world isn’t enough. It isn’t enough for Joss Whedon co-writes Cabin in the Woods, one of the best horror movies of recent years. It isn’t enough that he writes and directs The Avengers. No, he has to do more; he has to make the rest of earth feel inadequate by also inviting all his acting friends over to his house for a party—a let’s-make-a-Shakespeare- adaptation-in-a-weekend party. And wouldn’t you know it; the film’s a delightful and fun adaptation.
The film centers on Beatrice (Amy Acker) and Benedick (Alexis Denisof), a man and woman who find each other intolerable and do their best to make it known at every available opportunity to whoever might be listening. But when two of their respective friends, Hero (Jilian Morgese) and Claudio (Fran Kranz), fall in love, a plan is devised by friends to bring Beatrice and Benedick together.
What makes this adaptation stellar is the magnificent cast. It’s culled mostly from many of the shows Joss Whedon worked on and a reminder of how stellar many of these actors are. It’s still astounding that Amy Acker hasn’t made it big. She’s a sharp actress and gives the best performance of the film. Many of these actors are under cast and it’s good to see Whedon bring them all together to make an amazing ensemble.
Of course, the show-stealing performance is Nathan Fillion. Whedon is wise to place him in one of the smaller roles, but his delivery of Shakespeare and his sense of timing and humor is masterful. He brings the biggest laughs of the entire film.
If the film has a flaw, it’s the tonal shifts aren’t quite as elegant as they could be. The film drifts between comedy and drama most of the film, but it fails to properly tease the comedy to come in the opening act, which quite a long, dry stretch. Later in the film, when some of the physical gags come in, they feel slightly out of place. They’re still funny, but for a moment it seems as if another film has intruded.
For a film shot on a shoestring budget and in a short amount of time, there’s some smart camerawork. Windows and mirrors become recurring visual motifs. They not only become visual framing devices, but also reinforce themes about the duality of Beatrice and Benedick, that what they say is the reverse of what they feel. There are still some scenes where the handheld camerawork feels a bit rough, but these are little flaws in an otherwise well-realized visualization of Shakespeare.
The modernization of the story is more of a curiosity than anything else. The dialogue remains almost entirely the same, even to the point that Riki Lindhome playing the male character Conrade is still referred to as a man. Instead of swords, people wear guns. There’s also some mediocre modern music thrown into the film. It’s a superficial set dressing, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
As much as Much Ado About Nothing is the polar opposite of The Avengers, both share a strong cast and well-written dialogue. It’s clear that while Whedon made it big, he’s not forgetting his roots. The actors who made his shows wonderful, a writer that undoubtedly inspired his witty tongue and a foremost interest in the relationships of characters.
© 2014 James Blake Ewing