Some may say that Joss Whedon and Shakespeare, two giants within their own rights, are an unalloyed union of geekery for fans of both. Whether you’re a fan of one or the other, or both, Much Ado About Nothing offers something for everybody. Even a person who isn’t a fan of Shakespeare might find himself surprised, for Joss Whedon makes the original language accessible and, best of all, one can understand what they’re saying. (You don’t just have my word, you have Stephen Colbert’s!) There is no stumbling, no effort or struggle to understand the words. Any of the humour originally derived from the text (wordplay or slang, or cultural reference) that might otherwise be lost on a modern audience is punctuated by each actor’s performance and sometimes even the set itself, such as when Benedick is offering his thoughts on marriage and women while sitting next to a dollhouse with Barbies. (My favourite line, “That a woman conceived me, I thank her; that she brought me up, I likewise give her most humble thanks. […] And the fine is, for the which I may go the finer, I will live a bachelor.”)
I’ve been looking forward to seeing Much Ado since I caught wind of it (and the marketing lead-up to the movie’s release; the ever-changing Twitter bio instilled much laughter). From the get-go, my impression of Much Ado About Nothing is what an indie movie should be, ideally. (The definition of independent movies is not quite determined, and a discussion for another time.) It also embodies the kind of moviemaking I treasure: friends having a good time, whether it’s an indie movie on a micro budget or a major blockbuster, I always enjoying watching behind the scenes features with the cast and crew having a good time and enjoying themselves, and sharing stories in interviews.
I finally saw the movie on Wednesday, with my sister and aunt and all of us loved it! Brilliant and engaging, we laughed at the lines – most of them by Beatrice (Amy Acker) and Benedick (Alexis Denisof), and Dogberry (Nathan Fillion) – the moments of physical comedy (Alexis Denisof wins again), and cursed the “inevitable betrayal” of Don John (played by Sean Maher, who played Simon Tam in Firefly), who tries to sabotage a marriage before it has even happened. (Side note: I had no idea that he was in this movie! I had a minor crush on him, as his character, in Firefly. I did not like his character at all in Much Ado; he brilliantly and convincingly played the villain, a snake in the grass.)
Prior to seeing it, I borrowed a copy of the play from the library to be familiar with the text but so much of the comedy and humour, as well as the tension arising from Don John’s deceit, came alive from the actors’ performances. While I read the scene in which Don John frames Hero for infidelity with some unease, I was tense (my sister, sitting next to me, stressed out) when watching it happen in the movie and even more so as it led up to the point in which she is framed and publicly humiliated. Likewise, while I might have read humorous, witty lines with amusement with amusement, I laughed out loud while hearing those same lines (particularly Dogberry’s). It has long been argued that Shakespeare is meant to be performed, not read, and I can now attest to that – when done well. Such is the case with Joss Whedon’s adaptation.