How do you follow-up a mega-blockbuster hit like ‘The Avengers?’ If you’re director Joss Whedon, you invite a group of acting friends over to your house and make a film adaptation of Shakespeare. That is precisely what Whedon did with the classic romantic comedy, ‘Much Ado About Nothing.’ The film was shot in black and white at Whedon’s Santa Monica hillside home. He co-founded a production company, ‘Bellwether Pictures’ with his wife Kai Cole, to make indie films on a micro-budget. It is refreshing to see an auteur take a break from commercial Hollywood fare and pursue art-house passion projects from material he adores.
“In Joss We Trust!” For those that are not aware of Whedon’s long resume, let me fill you in on this talented writer-director. Whedon has had an astonishing writing career in Hollywood. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. He is the son of Tom Whedon, a screenwriter for ‘The Golden Girls’ in the ‘80s, and grandson of John Whedon, a writer for ‘The Donna Reed Show’ in the ‘50s. Whedon is best known for creating and being the showrunner of the television series ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ (1997-2003), ‘Angel’ (1999-2004), ‘Firefly’ (2002), and ‘Dollhouse’ (2009-2010). He also co-wrote the horror film ‘The Cabin in the Woods (2012), and wrote and directed ‘The Avengers’ which is the third highest-grossing film of all time.
For those that didn’t read the Shakespeare play ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ in high school, the story pokes fun at the tricky game of love. Don Pedro (Reed Diamond ‘Dollhouse’) pays a visit to the home of Leonato (Clark Gregg ‘The Avengers’). While enjoying the hospitality of Leonato’s endless bottles of wine, young Claudio (Franz Kranz ‘The Cabin in the Woods’) is smitten by Leonato’s lovely daughter Hero (newcomer Jillian Morgese). At the same time, another couple Benedick (Alexis Denisof ‘Angel’) exchanges witty barbs with Hero’s cousin Beatrice (Amy Acker ‘ Angel’). It is delightful to watch their friends mischievously plot to get these two together for romance. The pairings are threatened and take a dark turn by the scheming of Don John (Sean Maher ‘Firefly’) who happens to be Don Pedro’s illegitimate brother.
It’s a playful and delightful version of a classic romcom from The Bard. An interesting fact is that most of the drama takes place in Whedon’s spacious Los Angeles abode. I read that the warm and inviting design of the interior was designed by Whedon’s wife. It’s almost if Whedon threw a weekend-long party at his house while shooting the film. It’s a talented unknown ensemble cast. Whedon is known to be loyal to his acting friends and ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ is a testament to that fact. Standout performances go to the young lovers Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof who both starred in Whedon’s television show ‘Angel.’ The chemistry between them is palpable. Honorable mention must be handed to Nathan Fillion (Firefly) as the bumbling security guard Dogberry and his sidekick Tom Lenk (Cabin in the Woods) as Verges.
Let’s face it unless you’re a Rhodes Scholar, there will be some dialogue that will go over your head. That is okay. Although Whedon sticks to the original text, it is easy to follow the story. This film was shot over one week and it is apparent the actors are not trained in Shakespearean drama. However, Whedon is such a talented storyteller; he gives it the right pace with impressive monochrome cinematography. If you want to view a more classical version of ‘Much Ado About Nothing,’ my suggestion is to rent Kenneth Branagh’s 1993 version. Overall, Whedon has created a cute and modern twist on a Shakespeare classic. I screened this film at the Sun Valley Film Festival. It is scheduled to open in theatres on June 7, 2013.