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Much Ado About Nothing - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Much Ado About Nothing
Directing: B
Acting: B+
Writing: B+
Cinematography: B
Editing: B

Cinematic adaptations of Shakespeare can be tricky. Unless they are set in the same time in which the text was written, the more stylized and fanciful -- the more like a fantasy -- the better. When Baz Luhrmann did his Romeo + Juliet in the nineties, it worked largely because it didn't exist in any set time period -- it revealed a world all its own. Visual cues made their own explanations for what otherwise would have been anachronistic; a "Dagger" was a brand name for handguns. It was slickly produced an snappy. There have been other fantastical examples, such as Julie Taymor's 1999 adaptation of Titus.

But when Shakespeare is put in the mouths of actors presented in a straightforward, present-day environment, it's a little more problematic. Some directors are better at it than others; some plays are better suited for it than others. It's been widely reported that Joss Whedon shot Much Ado About Nothing in secret, at his own home, during post-production of The Avengers. I won't deny that this detail is, well, kind of awesome -- especially considering the lack of depth in the highly overrated Avengers movie. You can't get much deeper than Shakespeare. Okay, so this is actually one of his comedies. Whatever.

The thing is, the "contemporary setting" of this Much Ado About Nothing, Whedon's clear passion for it notwithstanding, is difficult to accept, given the dialogue. We're meant to take it at face value that these are people living in 2013, the men all in suit jackets and ties, and yet all they can talk about is matchmaking and "honor" in the context of marriage, the mere rumor of totally unproved infidelity having the potential to derail a relationship. And yes, okay, people still engage in these kinds of soap opera behaviors today, but how many of them blithely suggest killing a man over it, like it's just a normal thing to do? Hero (Jillian Morgese) is even asked to fake her own death -- a death resulting from nothing more than accusation (??) -- over this stuff.

These are very sixteenth-century themes, which don't really have a comfortable place in a contemporary setting. To Whedon's credit, his goal was to make this movie on the cheap, and that he did, without particularly sacrificing production values. There's just this disconnect with the setting that's difficult to get past.

That's not to say that it's impossible, however. I'll freely admit that any Shakespeare contains a whole lot of dialogue that flies right over my head. Once you stop trying too hard to understand it, though, the basic gist of the action sinks in. It's sort of like watching a foreign film in a language in which you know a few of the words. Eventually you're able to follow along. And the actors here, led by Alexis Denisof as Benedick, Amy Acker as Beatrice, Reed Diamond as Don Pedro and Clark Gregg as Leonato, are so obviously having a good time that it's infectious. Even within this production's odd constraints, it gets funny -- I laughed out loud several times.

The whole film is shot in black and white, apparently an attempted allusion to 1930s screwball comedies. That may well also explain the semi-formal attire worn by everyone. Of course, Shakespearean language doesn't transfer to the 1930s any more freely than it does to the 2010s, which is clearly still the world in which the characters in this movie are meant to exist. They just have weirdly archaic views on love and marriage.

Really, this is what you need to know: if Shakespeare generally doesn't do it for you, this movie is not going to transcend your disinterest. True lovers of Shakespeare will likely at least find it enjoyable. Clearly the audience for this movie is limited, but it's likely to be an appreciative one.

Sean Maher strikes a watery pose in MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING.

Overall: B
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