' ' Cinema Romantico: Much Ado About Nothing

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Much Ado About Nothing

Professor Sean Garrity: “We just used them in a modern re-telling of Macbeth set in gangland Chicago.” 
Jeff Winger: “Fresh take. Never would have thought of it.” 

- Community

It is nigh impossible to discuss Joss Whedon’s adaptation of William Shakespeare’s comedy “Much Ado About Nothing” without also discussing its featherweight production history – that is, on 12 days of down time during filming of his gazillion-raking “The Avengers, Whedon assembled a smattering of his acting pals and in handsome black & white filmed his version of the play on location at his own Los Angeles residence.

Often modern day adaptations of the renowned English bard, as evinced in the quote above, become overly focused on the setting rather than the text or the material or the vibe. Ethan Hawke’s Hamlet gives his Big Speech in a Blockbuster and Leo's Romeo sports a Hawaiian shirt and Alicia Silverstone is Princess of France at the height of WWII. But once you get past the initially bothersome Look At That! nature of the production (as in, Look! It's a super cute stuffed puppy on that bed!), Joss Whedon's house winningly transforms into a Californiacated Globe Theater. In other words, it allows the words and performances to command the spotlight.

So too does the Whedon dwelling play up the inherent screwball nature of the text, transforming it into a chronicling of the boozy, dreamy weekend wedding of Claudio (Fran Kranz) and Hero (Jillian Morgese). The film, in fact, that kept running through my mind was Jonathan Demme's "Rachel Getting Married." As it demonstrated, so often a wedding becomes less about the prospective husband and wife then everyone else around them. Rachel's name may be in the title, but her sister Kym makes it all about her shit. And it may be Claudio and Hero's wedding, but Benedick (Alexis Denisof) and Beatrice (Amy Acker) make it all about their shit.

That Whedon chooses for his opening shot a quick flash of Beatrice exiting Benedick's bed post-apparent one night stand is not insignificant. It actually removes weight from their relationship, adds frivolity, and assists in strengthening the notion of games that people play when later on members of the household decide to play matchmaker to the quarreling pseudo-lovebirds. I greatly appreciated how the breeziness of the film's creation underscores the breeziness of Beatrice and Benedick's courtship. This is not necessarily everlasting love but, well, a girl and a guy gettin' it on and then seeing what happens.

Don Pedro (Reed Diamond), of course, chief villain, has his own fun wherein he chooses to sabotage the impending marriage by employing various matters of sleight-of-hand to give Claudio the impression that his bride to be is less than virtuous. Well, that's a tricky detail for the modern day take, isn't it? The groom impolitely telling off the bride in the eyes of God? Tonally I wonder if it threatens the film but, if you will permit me to play devil's advocate to myself, does it not also function as a rather nasty illustration of the wedding day meltdowns that usually take place behind closed doors?

Eventually, as they must be, the schemes of Don Pedro and cohorts are unraveled, in a manner of speaking, by Dogberry, who lives on the grounds of Leonato's (Clark Gregg) home as his personal security. Comedically hapless, Nathan Fillion runs with the role. The part brings with it an air of showiness but Fillion manages to convey desperate professionalism that continually founders on account of his own incompetence. He speaks every infamous malapropism as if he yearns to recant it the instant it leaves his lips.

And so what surprises me most in the end is not the quality of this film nor Whedon's decision to do it in the first place and the way he went about it, both of which seem completely in character. Rather it is that Fillion, he of the nimble charm, is, inexplicably, not a star's star. Perhaps it is because New Hollywood prefers Marvel to Avon but, nevertheless, Dogberry, no matter how dubious, is the only Avenger this reviewer requires.

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