As the second major theatrical feature adaptation of William Shakespeare’s sixteenth century play Much Ado About Nothing, the film primarily focuses on two couples: the older Benedick and Beatrice, and the younger Claudio and Hero, as each pair struggles toward a happy, comedic ending, and along the way, is met with misunderstandings, plots that either work for them or against them, and their own internal stubbornness not to accept the true love they harbor for one another.
Even with just one large house as his main setting, the Much Ado About Nothing’s director, Joss Whedon, never lets the film feel claustrophobic or limited in scope. There is a smooth swiftness that saturates Whedon’s version of the work, set in present day, ushered in by an instantaneous likability. You know right off this will be an adaptation of the play like you’ve never seen.
As with all Shakespeare adaptations, it all comes down to the performances. The actors here, most of whom are veterans of the Whedonverse, have a joint, relaxed chemistry, with an evident effort to do the Bard of Avon’s words real justice. Their obvious enjoyment and respect for the material is infectious, even if we are not able to decipher the meaning of every last statement they utter, myself included. Though it’s clear the cast is having one hell of a good time. Benedick and Beatrice, played by Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker, are sort of magical together. The on-screen chemistry they had in spades as Wesley (Denisof) and Fred (Acker) on the television series Angel hasn’t faded. Acker and Denisof anchor much of Much Ado About Nothing, excellently surrounded by a team of skilled players.
Unfortunately, most Shakespeare adaptations, meaning movies that actually use most of the writer’s dialogue from a particular play, tend not to draw wide audiences. Perhaps it is because Shakespeare’s work is often viewed, to its detriment, as required high school reading or the man’s plays possess a style of language written centuries ago, that is practically foreign to many of us now. Despite the opaqueness of the some of the dialogue however, Much Ado About Nothing and its cast are full of a love that ought to be reciprocated.
Truly, this is one of the best, classiest Shakespeare ensembles we’ve ever had and it is vastly different from Kenneth Branagh’s charming 1993 adaptation of the same play. Director Joss Whedon is a smart, conscientious storyteller. Though the words here aren’t his, the resounding passion, amusement and lovely simplicity on display, are and the film is yet another example of his artistic versatility.