Much Ado About Nothing and Twelfth Night are my favourite Shakespearean comedies, which means I have read them and studied them, seen them on the stage and of course watched movie versions over and over. When I heard Joss Whedon was doing a screen adaptation of Much Ado, there was much excitement and anticipation as the peasants (that’s us), rejoiced on the slopes.
We got a chance to go see it this week, and I say, ‘got the chance’ because it’s rather hard to come by. None of the large cinema chains are showing it at all, and it is only the Schonell cinema, at Uni, or the Dendy, at Portside, that I could find it on in the entire city. It’s nice that the big boys down town don’t think audiences are sophisticated or cerebral enough to want a bit of Shakespeare in their diet… but it’s even worse that they are probably right as far as the bulk of the cinema going public is concerned.
Anyway, Whedon’s Much Ado, moves along at a swinging pace in an artsy fartsy black and white, boozy, contemporary summer house party, with a cast of all Joss Whedon’s favourite actor type buddies. With the script being as superlative as it is, I don’t think you can go too far wrong – in some ways the Shakespearean dialogue provides the magic regardless of the sets or casting. And Much Ado is as fast paced and saucy, and bitingly witty, yet appropriately poignant, as Shakespeare comes. With a script like this and any bunch of half way decent actors who can deliver a line on cue, it’s gotta be hard to totally fuck it up. I mean, the story/plot is just fabulous, and you know, I honestly believe this play paved the way and provided the basis for every ‘boy meets girl / boy and girl hate each other / boy and girl end up in love and live happily ever after’ Rom Com we’ve ever been fed in the last 500 years!
But even with such a wonderfully crafted script, full of delightfully meaty dialogue – for me the modern setting was really jarring and this entire production felt too slick by half (says the girl who still loves Lurhmann’s, Romeo & Juliet). It’s Shakespeare, but with a quirky fly on the wall quality that puts the viewer in the position of feeling like they’ve stumbled into a reality show about a bunch of well spoken, well dressed, constantly half charged, horny, elitist snobs that are all stuck in the one large, and well appointed, house… and yeah, we already know Don Juan is going to be the first voted off the island.
Beatrice, beautifully played by Amy Acker (Dollhouse, Angel, Person of Interest etc), came across as intelligent, feisty and fun, just as a good Beatrice should. However, I feel she totally overshadowed the completely forgettable dude that played Benedick, Alexis Denisof (of The Avengers, Buffy, Angel and other shit), who really needs to leave an equally strong impression on the audience. As for the rest of the cast, were they even there? They were a bit like suits delivering their lines to allow the movie to move on – bit harsh perhaps but I felt they left little to no impression on me at all. Even Natan Fillion (of Firefly and Castle fame) who I was so looking forward to as Dogberry, somehow fell flat – such an awesome comedic character and yet, it just felt like we got a befuddled Richard Castle with a hangover or something. *shrug* Unremarkable. Still, in spite of Benedick’s failings and Dogberry’s lack of any presence, I did actually enjoy this hip and happy, bubbly, cocktail party sort of version of the play.
There is one thing though that bugged me through the whole film. You know that feeling you get when you have a favourite playlist (or for those of us old enough to remember – a favourite mix tape) and you hear a certain song and immediately expect to hear the usual ‘next song’ come on directly after? Well, I had that feeling throughout this entire film! No doubt… no doubt, this is the direct result of having watched Kenneth Brannagh’s Much Ado About Nothing on DVD, more times than I could count, and as such expecting various lines of dialogue to be delivered in a certain way. I couldn’t help but hear the lines in my head, before the actors had uttered them and would then be taken aback or disappointed even when they were delivered ‘wrong’ or somehow not in the ‘usual manner’.
Overall, if you’re a Shakespeare aficionado… yeah go see it. If you miss it at the cinema, don’t panic, it’s not really a big screen film anyway and won’t lose anything in translation to your 40 or 50 inch TVs. To me, it was a bit of self indulgent fluff from Joss Whedon that felt like he was trying to get ‘the old band back together’ to do something with a bit of weight behind it.