Much Ado About Nothing (2013) Directed by Joss Whedon. Starring: Alexis Denisof, Amy Acker, Fran Kranz. IMDB says: “A modern retelling of Shakespeare’s classic comedy about two pairs of lovers with different takes on romance and a way with words.”
Joss Whedon’s adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing is somewhat of a surprise, considering his recent success with The Avengers, Agents of Shield and Marvel properties in general. To contextualise it, it was filmed in 12 days on a micro-budget with a cast of actors he’s very familiar with, hence why he was able to fit it into his schedule. The thing is, Shakespeare adaptations are somewhat of a trap, they need to be fresh with a unique spin, whilst relating to the original text, whilst also appealing to a wider audience as opposed to just those who are well versed in the playwright’s works.
In terms of story, Much Ado About Nothing is essentially an ensemble cast romantic comedy. Without dwelling too much on the nonsense or sub-plots, Benedick and Beatrice are spurned ex-lovers who over the course of events are tricked into declaring their love for each other. Meanwhile Hero and Claudio are soon to be wed, until a rumour is spread by war criminal Don John that Hero has been unfaithful. It all gets very complicated, as the saying proves true that all is fair, in love and war. After much mellodrama, everything works out in the end, the couples are together, Don John is caught.
So with that in mind, how did Joss Whedon approach this daunting, much loved Shakespeare play? Surprisingly for a modern adaptation, the dialogue is completely unchanged from Shakespeare’s original prose. As gratifying as that is, the context is completely removed as it’s in a modern setting, shot in Joss Whedon’s own house of all places. Whedon also went with black and white for this picture, perhaps to remove the need for certain production elements such as lighting? Perhaps he’s just being self indulgent. The implication could be made that Whedon’s trying to preach that Shakespeare can be performed in any manner, it’s all about the language, the dialogue, the artistic prose over anything else.
Maybe that’s a valid statement, but there’s one problem with Whedon’s attempt. Without context or colour, it’s painfully dry and incredibly taxing to watch. Not to mention the play’s themes of war do not work in a domestic environment. Amy Acker and Alexis Denisoff pull off a very theatrical performance that deserves praise, but it simply wasn’t enough to make the film feel anything other than horrifically dull.
Whedon’s approach was bold and different, but plays are usually about the context that you frame them in. Without the flamboyance or the opulence in costume, design or setting, this particular Shakespeare play feels entirely out of place. It’s a shame a very solid cast wasn’t enough to make the experience pleasant. It’s still worth a watch for it’s originality if Shakespeare happens to be your thing, but otherwise watch the Kenneth Branagh version.