by Ken B.
Joss Whedon’s version of Much Ado About Nothing has a lot of good ideas going for it. It also has a lot of not-so-good ideas going for it. When its 108 minutes passed by, it was clear that there was a large amount of high quality in the creative sense, but little to write home about otherwise.
Whedon barely changes anything in the plot except abridging the dialogue and moving the setting from 16th century Italy to 21st century California. This is still the story of two couples; Benedick (ALEXIS DENISOF) and Beatrice (AMY ACKER) are suspicious and somewhat cynical when it comes to love, thanks to many years of experience. Claudio (FRAN KRANZ) and Hero (JILLIAN MORGESE) are younger and more hopeful – nearly naïve, some might say. The film transpires at the home of Leonato (CLARK GREGG), Hero’s father, over the course of several days. Also among the present are Prince Don Pedro (REED DIAMOND), and the Prince’s brother John (SEAN MAHER), who attempts to break up Claudio and Hero.
Here’s what I see: Joss Whedon attempting to adapt William Shakespeare is an intriguing enough idea to attract interest, and for the most part, Whedon is more than capable of adapting and directing Shakespeare’s sharp, rhythmic dialogue. The acting, generated mostly out of lesser known performers, is very good. There is but one flaw, and that is the overall execution of the project from an aesthetic and technical standpoint. DP Jay Hunter uses a minimalist black-and-white approach for the most part, and on its own, it is quite enjoyable. However, the traditional filming on top of the modern setting with actors speaking old English creates a looming undercurrent of a perfunctory art project, very different from the other aspects on display, which are dedicated and professional.
While this is sometimes easy to overlook, there are moments where Much Ado About Nothing’s dynamic becomes unavoidably distracting. Consider a masquerade party towards the start of the film. It uses artistic camera angles and a jazz-based score by Whedon. Combined with the black-and-white imagery, it looks a bit like a swanky cologne ad. Once Shakespeare’s dialogue comes careening in, it’s all the more off putting. These two aspects of technical filmmaking and iconic English language writing are great on their own, but have a mix around the chemistry of oil and water.
The fact that the entire project was filmed in twelve days at Whedon’s house implies that the final product could have been much worse or rushed, and this film certainly is a far cry from downright bad. But the way the movie presents itself overall makes it clear that it does not jell internally. Some parts of the film are appealing and clever, and other parts can become downright irritating. Much Ado About Nothing is a movie I definitely wanted to like, but I cannot recommend it, for there are too many shortcomings that keep this from being as good it should have been.