You gotta hand it to Joss Whedon, his film style covers a lot of ground making him the most diverse film producer and director around today. When he’s not behind the camera of a cult-favourite television series or filming one of the biggest superhero movies of the year, he’s creating clever films that may seem cheeky on the surface but underneath are packed with thought provoking statements. Whedon can do no wrong. Yet, maybe he has and few take notice.
His latest adventure comes in the form of a visually updated version of a story published in 1623. William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. In Whedon’s adaptation, nearly all of the original script remains intact with slight changes. What makes this film different from similar others, or from what would be expected, is that despite the original script (language and all), it is set in modern times but doesn’t draw attention to it. No one actually acknowledges the photographer with the Canon-brand camera snapping shots all over the place, or the wireless clip communicators used throughout and a flashlight is referred to as “a lantern”. The combination of very different eras is charming in this black-and-white film but with such a modern setting, reality sets in when we see that the characters are, of course, very Shakespearean.
On the day of their wedding, Claudio (Fran Kranz) reveals his belief that wife-to-be Hero (Jillian Morgese) has been unfaithful. Immediately, Hero’s father Leonato (Clark Gregg) wishes her dead. Yet his mind is instantly changed by Friar Francis (Paul M. Meston) who comes up with a scheme that inevitably brings out the truth but not before Beatrice (Amy Acker) and Benedick (Alexis Denisof) profess their love for each other. However Beatrice demands that to win her over, Benedick must slay Claudio as revenge for his slanderous treatment of Hero. It’s because of this type of character indecisiveness that makes it difficult to look beyond this film as anything more than role play.
And that’s essentially what it is. What began as a series of Shakespeare readings at his house turned into the idea for Whedon to film an entire movie here, resulting in an awkward re-enactment of the story with familiar faces playing the roles while the camera roles. The story being told and the visual element are too separated for this to be anything more a group of people reciting a Shakespeare script for their own entertainment. The disconnect and apathy toward the setting is too much to ignore. Otherwise, the film is visually beautiful as it was done so in black and white, offering the charm and class that colour film wouldn’t have been able to offer a picture such as this.
Watching this film is essentially like watching a book club or a board game being played. If you love the book being read and discussed or the game being played, you will enjoy it. But you’re also on the outside looking in and that’s not a very interesting role to play.