“If you had a little bit of time off after shooting a gigantic blockbuster like The Avengers, you’d probably take a vacation, right?” asks Vulture‘s Kyle Buchanan. “That’s what Joss Whedon had planned to do last fall… and then, all of a sudden, he changed course and used his break to shoot a low-budget film version of William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, starring Whedonverse staples Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, and Nathan Fillion.” Buchanan talks with Whedon “about how it came together, how it differs from the 1993 Kenneth Branagh version, and how shooting it gave him new perspective on The Avengers.”
“There’s a very strong possibility that a viewer’s enjoyment of Whedon’s take on William Shakespeare will be affected by how much of a Whedon fan he or she already is,” suggests Noel Murray at the AV Club. “It’s not a requirement, mind. This Ado does tell Shakespeare’s story, with Shakespeare’s dialogue, with the only overt twists being that the film is in modern dress, shot in black-and-white in Whedon’s own sunny Southern California home…. Whedon is smart enough to make the ‘hey kids let’s put on a show’ aspect of this project work for him…. The meta elements of Whedon’s Much Ado do serve a purpose. Shakespeare’s play, like Whedon’s movie, is about people goofing their way to something serious.”
“Part of what allows the film to be so effective, despite a budget probably not far in excess of an Avengers craft services table, is the subtle balance and contrast it achieves between courtly language and contempo mores,” writes Variety‘s Justin Chang. “The archaic codes of honor that govern this late-16th-century work provide a poignant reminder of what’s been lost in the rites of modern coupling, even as the characters’ onscreen dalliances, though filmed with tasteful discretion, help to bring out the text’s deep, lustrous sensuality.”
“There’s an obvious family tree to draw from the contorted quips Benedick [Denisof] and Beatrice [Acker] hurl at each other to the hyper-clever banter of Whedon’s own creations,” notes John DeFore in the Hollywood Reporter. “But more than most adaptations, this is a film true to Shakespeare’s practice of employing all means at hand to keep the crowd entertained—even if it means getting Clark Gregg (as Leonato), that impeccably professional agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., to get drunk and shake his ass.”
“[B]ecause it’s utterly delightful, it’s utterly successful,” argues NPR’s Linda Holmes. “As I watched Much Ado About Nothing, I had the distinct thought, ‘I wonder whether this is the future.’ Not the future, of course—’I don’t believe we’re anywhere close to the end of the blockbuster, nor do I believe we’re necessarily entering a new age of Shakespeare—but a big piece of the future. Big films have gotten so big, expensive films so expensive, that all of the risk has to be drained out of them, which often leaves behind a dried-out version of whatever was originally intended. When you forgo so much of what the money buys, you don’t have to hedge every single bet to make the money back.”
For indieWIRE‘s Eric Kohn, though, this is “Whedon’s least essential work, regardless of the material’s inherent comedic inspiration.” He gives it a C+. But HitFix‘s Drew McWeeney is “delighted that something that sounds like a personal experiment yielded such rich and simple pleasures,” and, at the Playlist, Christopher Schobert gives it an A-.
Much Ado About Nothing has premiered as a Special Presentation at Toronto.
Updates, 9/16: “Whedon’s key coup is in simply directing a very good version of the play,” writes the Guardian‘s Catherine Shoard. “He’s got a keen ear for comedy, a no-nonsense approach to ditching the gags that don’t work, a deft hand for slapstick and an eagerness to use it.”
“Really,” adds the AV Club‘s Scott Tobias, “it’s just a joy to see the Whedon players—Acker! Denisof! Kranz!—deliver Shakespeare’s endearing comedy of love and misunderstanding with their usual élan. Whedon keeps the staging simple, but directs with great energy, ace timing, and a good feel for when some embellishing gesture might carry a scene across.”
Monika Bartyzel at Movies.com: “For Whedonites, this is greatness—a moment to watch Whedon’s beloved actors come back together in real meaty roles rather than bit parts in the shadow of superstars. As a Shakespeare adaptation, however, it’s crisp and bright enough for easy enjoyment, but too self-indulgent to stand out amongst the many adaptations.”
But, hey: “This is meant to be fun,” Twitch‘s Todd Brown reminds us, “a group of creative friends simply enjoying each other’s company. And we’re lucky enough to get to join in.”
Interviews with Whedon: Mekado Murphy in the New York Times and Nigel M. Smith at indieWIRE, reporting that Lionsgate has picked up North American rights.
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