Friday, 21 March 2014

Film Review: Much Ado About Nothing (2013)

What do you do if you've just spent several months working with some of the world's biggest actors on a near enough perfect superhero movie that would go on to make $1.5 billion dollars worldwide and receive widespread critical acclaim?

Well, if you're anything like Joss Whedon, you'd get some mates round and spend twelve days recreating a cherished Shakespearean play, in black and white in your own backyard.

This is my review of Much Ado About Nothing.

Starring regular Whedonites Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Nathan Fillion, Clark Gregg and Sean Maher, Much Ado About Nothing draws directly from the original text (rather than modernizing the text) but places the story with a 21st Century setting.

The snappish Shakespearen word play between characters like Benedick (Denisof) and Beatrice (Acker) suits Whedon, and the actors down to the ground. It also helps greatly that the cast appear to be having a whale of a time - beaming from ear to ear, Acker, Denisof, Gregg and co. just can't restrain the sense of glee.

That's not to say the cast doesn't balance the drama well, with the first wedding scene standing out (for obvious reasons, those who know the story) as an example of such. On the whole however, Much Ado is an inherently jovial and cheeky play, and that comes across on screen.

I just got a great kick out of seeing actors like Nathan Fillion (who plays bumbling constable Dogberry) getting their mouths around the timeless wordplay of Shakespeare. I'm not much of a Shakespeare nut (Much Ado was one of only four Shakespeare plays I studied in school), but I really revelled in the decision to keep the original dialogue for this adaptation.

Other stand-outs from the cast include Fran Kranz as the young and naive Claudio, Denisof as the headstrong Benedick and Sean Maher as the villainous Don John. There was no-one in particular from the cast that stood out as a weak link.

To me, the comparisons to Baz Luhrmann's divisive adaptation of Romeo and Juliet were there from the off, with both films starring big name actors, from big directors and placing the original dialogue in a contemporary setting. But for me, the clear winner is Much Ado. Whedon's film is classy, simple and has a wry grin on every face, rather than being all flash with little substance. And there are no fish tanks, as far as I could tell.

The film did its utmost to remain accurate to the source material also, with only a few minor alterations made to characters and scenes. The film-makers passion for the source text really comes across in every aspect of its production. There is a sense of giddyness and energy that pervades every scene, and every character.

In terms of direction, Much Ado is simply gorgeous, with the framing and angles being meticulously poured over. And even then, they come across as simple, understated and natural. Also the decision to present the film in black and white is great, with a classic romance/noire vibe coming across throughout.

The Verdict: 9/10

If ever there was a Shakespearen text to suit Whedon, it would have been Much Ado. And, as the duo prove to be a hit, with the whole cast and production being fantastic. It's fun, light and charming. The direction is stylish and aesthetic is exquisite, and the whole thing oozes deftness of touch and whimsy. Much Ado About Nothing is a delight, a cherished tribute to classic Shakespeare. It's one of my favourite films from 2013. 

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