Synopsis: Fans of Whedon and Shakespeare will rejoice… Joss Whedon’s sexy and contemporary spin on Shakespeare’s classic comedy about sparring lovers Beatrice and Benedick offers a sensual, tragic and occasionally absurd view of the intricate game that is love.
eyelights: the adaptation. the cast.
eyesores: its low budget vibe.
“For which of my bad parts didst thou first fall in love with me?”
If you’re a big shot director, and you’ve just released one of film history’s biggest box office winners, what do you do to follow it up? Do you try to follow it up with something bigger, à la James Cameron? Or do you take advantage of that opportunity to cleanse your palate?
After ‘The Avengers’, Joss Whedon chose the latter: he decided to produce ‘Much Ado About Nothing’, his modern adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic comedy, which he shot over the course of a couple of weeks at his own home in Santa Monica, with many of his frequent collaborators.
I can’t say that I’m especially familiar with The Bard’s play, having only seen the Kenneth Branagh adaptation, but I remembered some of the details while watching this, and it seemed relatively faithful to the material. The biggest change is the setting; this is not a period piece.
Even the dialogues are pulled straight from the original text, which left me scrambling for the remote control so that I could watch it with subtitles; I read Shakespeare better. Frankly, I can’t even imagine what it would have been like to try to keep up in cinemas, without the on-screen text.
Actually, it makes me wonder what audiences made of this film. Granted, it wasn’t a box office hit, released as it was in just over 200 cinemas (versus ‘The Avengers’ 4300+ screens), but I’m curious to know if the average movie-goer, knowing it was a Joss Whedon picture, appreciated this.
I certainly did. While I missed a lot of nuances of the text, I understood the majority of it, and it’s a delightful romp. Whedon even added a few modern touches to make it more accessible, such as some slapsticky moments, some visual gags, or meta performances by the cast.
My problem with the picture is that it looks cheap. Granted, it was done on a low budget, but it looks like a TV knock-off that was desaturated in post-production (because, yes, it’s in black and white. Let’s be clear: modern setting, classic text, black and white. Yeah, it’s an odd duck…).
This extends to the performances, which weren’t all natural. One has to remember that it was shot over two weeks, and I suspect that their prep time wasn’t extensive either. Plus which it’s Shakespeare, which is not exactly the easiest text to remember and regurgitate. But still…
If anything, Joss Whedon’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ felt like a film-school version of a Woody Allen film; it has all the romantic entanglements, the sharp dialogues, the humour, and even some of the quirks of an Allen film. It’s a bit more challenging, but it’s a good time.
And, yes, love does win out in the end.
(Hurray for Hollywood endings! Shakespeare really was ahead of his time…).
Date of viewing: Jan 31+Feb 1, 2016