Plot – A modern retelling of Shakespeare’s classic comedy about two pairs of lovers with different takes on romance and a way with words – Much Ado About Nothing.
Director – Joss Whedon
Released – 2013
Joss Whedon’s name may no longer be as squeaky clean as it used to be, but for a period after The Avengers, it was assumed that he could do no wrong and seemingly had the world at his feet, which is why I chose to revisit his energetic yet bland black & white contemporary adaptation of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, where I found myself paying more attention to the filmmaking process and set rather than the plot unfolding.
This passion project for Whedon couldn’t be further away from his Marvel blockbuster if he tried, though it does pose some questions, namely surrounding the choice of location, with the film shot in Whedon’s actual house, which although is clearly a lovely home as you’d expect from a movie director, yet feels stripped of anything personal as if staged by an estate agent for an open house or a set from an afternoon melodrama, which decides to film in a real home feel pointless unless they were just trying to keep the production cost down.
Another of the elements that contribute to making the film feel so bland and lifeless is the digital cameras combined with black & white, which lacks the richness you get in classic black & white movies. While the use of pop music dotted throughout feels awkward and amateurish like a small budget student production populated with seasoned actors, most of whom had worked with Whedon in the past.
Perhaps in the effort to make it more palatable for a contemporary audience, the Much Ado dialogue is made as curiously colourless as the film. Shakespeare’s clever ripostes lose their punch, elaborate plot points feel contrived, and slapstick gestures are added in an attempt to make it work. Strangest of all is a scene in a swimming pool wearing diving goggles that I’m guessing was supposed to be funny but instead felt random and at odd with the tone of the movie.
Now, Shakespearean texts aren’t the easiest to follow at the best of times, his comedies even more so. The plays are full of words and sayings which are no longer in use or whose meanings have since changed. Much Ado is no different.
One can scarcely credit that these words are coming out of these mouths. Made up by a series of misunderstandings between a group of people with Italianate names to learn like Benedict, Claudio, Borachio, Leonato, which makes sense in Elizabethan Italy but not so much modern-day ’10s. California, and even less so when the lack of colour in production made the actors difficult to distinguish. Sure, they have trimmed the dialogue in an attempt to make it work, but there remains a disconnect between the original Shakespearean script, the modern setting and an unrelated soundtrack.
I don’t mean to imply that Much Ado About Nothing is a complete right off and I can only admire Whedon for taking a risk and taking the time to make something different from what he is known for, similar to when Jon Favreau chose to take a step back from big-budget productions to make Chef (A film you should definitely not watch on an empty stomach). But unlike Favreau’s excellent love letter to American food, Whedon’s Much Ado failed to connect.
If you liked – Romeo + Juliet, Shakespeare In Love, My Own Private Idaho