TIFF 2012 Review: MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING Respects Its Source

Todd Brown, Founder and Editor
So. You've the director of what will soon become one of the biggest, most successful films ever created. And you've got a bit of time on your hands. So what do you do? If you're Joss Whedon - creator of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly and Dollhouse, writer of Toy Story, director of The Avengers - you break out your rolodex, invite a few friends over to your house and film an adaptation of a classic play by William Shakespeare.

For those unfamiliar with the basic story, here it goes: Don Pedro has just returned home after a successful military campaign, bunking down along the way with the loyal governor of Messina, Leonato. It takes no time at all for Pedro's youthful supporter, Count Claudio, to announce his love for Leonato's daugher Hero. It takes even less time for his other supporter, Benedick, to announce his disdain for marriage in general and Leonato's niece Beatrice, in particular. Clearly what is required is for Pedro to arrange a match between Claudio and Hero while setting up Benedick and Beatrice for good measure.

The appeal of Shakespeare's comedies for Whedon is immediately clear, Whedon sharing the bard's love for multi-stranded stories, clever wordplay and physical comedy. And Much Ado About Nothing gives Whedon and company plenty of opportunity to indulge in all of the above.

Populated by familiar faces from the Whedonverse - Amy Acker reminds that she is a fabulous comedic actress with Alexis Denisoff, Fran Kranz, Nathan Fillion, and others all turning up - along with newer collaborators such as the wildly versatile Clark Gregg, the most surprising element of the Whedon adaptation is just how little adapting Whedon feels compelled to do. Shot in black and white in and around the director's own home, this version of Much Ado is remarkably faithful to the text, Whedon declining to even tweak the sensitive racial and sexual politics themes that are commonly massaged in contemporary stage versions. And this is perhaps because this is less a film than a group of very talented friends simply getting together to play by staging a play. Clearly an antidote to the heavily artificial process of creating The Avengers things are left as plain and simple as possible, the joy of the process being the play itself.

Which is not to say that there is no craft on display here. Whedon has always been remarkably adept at seeding little grace notes throughout his work and he finds ways to frame and stage the text that continually surprise and entertain with plenty of sight gags and non-verbals bringing new life to the text. The entire cast is strong with Acker and Gregg deserving particular praise and the presentation engaging and lively from start to finish.

One thing that is often forgotten about Shakespeare is that his plays were not created as the serious art that they are often regarded as now. They were meant as popular entertainment, created for the masses, and Whedon embraces that aspect fully. This is meant to be fun, a group of creative friends simply enjoying each other's company. And we're lucky enough to get to join in.
Around the Internet:
  • Toronto

    The difference between this and the Branagh film is that this one is funny and deep. The Branagh film is dull compared to the play.

  • Richard O

    I don't understand the point of this version. The Branagh version took a few liberties, but overall I think it really worked. I'm not sure another film adaptation was needed. I suppose we'll find out.

  • Lysander

    There has to be a point to staging a play? I don't understand your statement. A separate adaptation of Shakespeare's play will not diminish those that came before it. Nor is is redundant -- would you say all the performances of this play since it's inception are unneeded? Enjoy the previous versions, try the new ones, add to your collection. Adaptations of plays are like bottles of wine.

  • 'Need' does not particularly factor in with Shakespeare adaptations. There are plays of his that I've probably seen ten different stagings of. There is not now, and never has been, any such thing as a definitive version of ANY of Shakespeare's plays in any medium.

  • kevo42

    I've got strong memories of the Kenneth Branagh version with his stellar casting. Is this version pale in comparison ? or is it as good as the old one ?

  • It's kind of apples and oranges, really. The Branagh version was really event filmmaking, as much as possible with a Shakespeare adaptation. This one really is literally just Whedon hanging out at home with a bunch of friends and blowing off steam by doing something as different as humanly possible from The Avengers. I doubt there was even the intention of releasing it when they were doing it.

  • kevo42

    Thank you for the answer Mr. Brown. I think I'll try to see it, then, if it's viewable in France one day.

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