Joss Whedon modernizes Shakespeare with “Much Ado About Nothing”

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Leave it up to writer-director Joss Whedon to shoot a movie at his Santa Monica home in 12 days with his close friends while in the middle of editing a blockbuster movie like “The Avengers.” “Much Ado About Nothing” is the most original and charming take of one of William Shakespeare’s plays since Baz Luhrman took on the Bard with “William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet.” Shot in black and white, Whedon’s interpretation of this play moves the story from 1600 Italy and setting in comtemporary California while keeping the original text intact.

Accompanied with two of his soldiers Benedick (Alexis Denisof) and Claudio (Fran Kranz), Prince Don Pedro (Reed Diamond) visits the home of his friend, Leonato (Clark Gregg).  As soon as they arrived, Claudio falls head over heels for Leonato’s daughter Hero (Jillian Morgese) while the headstrong Benedick butt heads with Leonato’s stubborn niece Beatrice (Amy Acker). Meanwhile, Don Pedro’s brother Don John (Sean Maher) plots a despicable plot that would make everyone miserable and ruin the impending nuptials between Claudio and Hero.

Whedon takes certain elements from 1930s screwball comedies like rapid-paced dialogue and pratfalls to make “Much Ado About Nothing” a surprisingly hilarious and unique take. Like Clark Gable’s and Claudette Colbert’s characters in “It Happened One Night,” Benedick and Beatrice can stand to be near each other as they throw verbal barbs at each other. However, they unwittingly begin to realize they might be made for each other thanks to some plotting by Prince Don Pedro, Leonato, Hero and Claudio.

“Much Ado About Nothing” is literally nothing without the cast, who are comprised of actors Whedon have worked with on his other projects like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Firefly” and “The Cabin in the Woods.” While Denisof and Acker can be considered the stars of the film and are pitch-perfect as the verbal jousting Benedick and Beatrice, their supporting cast allows them not to put the whole weight of the movie solely on their shoulders. Kranz and Morgese are sweet as the secondary lovers Claudio and Hero. If Leslie Nielsen’s Frank Drebin from the “Naked Gun” series and David Caruso’s Horatio Cane from “CSI: Miami” had a baby together, it would perfectly sum up Nathan Fillion’s hilarious portrayal of the bumbling cop Dogberry.

Even though Kenneth Branagh was the first filmmaker to bring Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing” to life on the big screen two decades earlier, Whedon’s take on the play is a refreshing breath of air in the romantic comedy genre that also allows him to give each cast member to have their own moment to shine in this film.

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