I got on board the Joss Whedon train a little late. It wasn’t until SERENITY came out that I discovered him. I was about to see that film until a friend of mine stopped me and made sure that I watched the entire series of FIREFLY first. He borrowed me his DVD collection, I watched only one episode, then I immediately gave it back to him and bought my own box set. That’s how much I loved it. And the movie? It was amazing and gets better every time I watch it. I still haven’t watch BUFFY yet, but I heard that’s good. But then he made THE AVENGERS and it’s seriously one of my favorite superhero movies. Just outstanding. So I was very curious when I found out that he made a black and white adaptation of a Shakespeare play at his own house using actor friends, and shot it in just a few days! I like Shakespeare, but am not as well versed as I would like to be with him. I wasn’t familiar with this play at all (never saw the Branagh version). So I was very curious to see it.
Since Shakespeare is pretty complex, it’s probably best to just look up the synopsis on IMDB or Wikipedia than have me tell you what the plot is, as I’m sure I’d do a horrible job trying to describe it. I guess I’ll give it a bit of a try. Or at least tell you the basic nature of the story: It is an updated version of MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, taking place in the present, but the dialogue has remained the same as the characters speak of princes and kingdoms and stuff like that. It’s definitely odd, but cool. A bunch of people arrive at Leonato’s house to celebrate the successful campaign of Don Pedro. Pedro’s rebellious brother Don John is upset that he won (since he was running against him), and plans on ruining the weekend by sabotaging a wedding between Leonato’s daughter Hero and Don Pedro’s officer Claudio. And while all this is taking place a romance is budding between Don Pedro’s other officer Benedick and the governor’s niece Beatrice, whom seemingly hate each other until Don Pedro sets them up. Also in the mix is a bumbling detective who is trying to make sense of everything.
It sounds kind of complicated, and it definitely is at first. It took me awhile to keep all of the characters straight and what purpose they served. That also could be because of the Shakespeare dialogue, which for me always takes me awhile to get used to. But I do really like the dialogue. To me it’s like a puzzle. With each line, you have to figure out what it means, and I like that. After about 30 minutes, I began to follow things pretty clearly and really got into it.
Because there is so much going on in the story, it’s never boring. I was always engaged as I was trying to figure out what was going to happen next. The first act pretty much just sets up the characters, but once the plot gets moving, the movie’s fun, playful spirit is infectious. As soon as Don Pedro decides to set up Beatrice and Benedick, I was hooked. This couple is definitely the heart of the movie, if not the main focus. This is also where most of the laughs come in. I was surprised by how much slapstick was in this. Probably one of my favorite scenes is when Benedick is listening in on Don Pedro and Claudio talking about how much Beatrice likes Benedick. His head peaking around walls and windows made for some very funny visuals. And ditto when Beatrice overhears people talking about Benedick’s love for her. She does a great pratfall. The other comic elements work really well too, the best one being the character of the detective played by Nathan Fillion. These scenes with him and his cronies interrogating suspects are funnier than almost anything you can find in the cinemas currently. And besides the comedy, this movie is also just a really good romance. It’s a very charming movie.
Whedon has assembled a brilliant cast. Alexis Denisof is perfect as Benedick. He is suave, witty, charming and has effortless comic timing. Ditto for Amy Acker as Beatrice. She has some wonderful comic moments and the two work unbelievably well together. I would love to see them both with Oscar nominations at next year’s ceremony. There are just so many cast members to name, but they all do a fine job. Clark Gregg (agent Colson from THE AVENGERS) as Leonato, Reed Diamond (Viril from MEMPHIS BELLE) as Don Pedro, Franz Kranz (the stoner from CABIN IN THE WOODS) as Claudio, Jillian Morgese as Hero, Sean Maher (the doc from FIREFLY) as Don John, Spencer Treat Clark (the kid from UNBREAKABLE) as Don John’s assistant, and Ashley Johnson (the baby from GROWING PAINS) as the maid all have their moments to shine. They are clearly having fun. But, unsurprisingly, Nathan Fillion steals the show as the detective. Oh my God! He’s so funny! He is so incompetent as is his deputies. Fillion delivers some great lines, and just watching all of his awkward facial expressions is a pure joy. Would love to see him get a supporting nod as well.
The direction is shockingly polished for being shot in just under 2 weeks. Everything is clearly storyboarded, and executed with confidence. This doesn’t feel like a bunch of friends fucking around for a week. It feels like a well planned out production. The black and white photography is a great idea and adds to the whimsy of the story. The script adaptation blends brilliantly with the modern day setting. The jazz fueled soundtrack is a perfect fit, giving it a classy and sophisticated feel, but keeping it from being stuffy. This movie feels very fresh!
I would also like to say that I brought my 9-year-old daughter to this movie. I didn’t really want to bring her because I didn’t think she would get into it all that much because of the dialogue. But I had to since she didn’t have school that day, and I had no one to watch her. To my surprise, she absolutely loved it. Like me, it took her a while to get used to the dialect, but once she figured out what was happenings, she was laughing, crying, and cheering along with me. She also asked me if there were any other Shakespeare movies that she could see. I think that’s pretty cool that this movie peaked an interest of the bard to my little girl. That really added something special to my moviegoing experience on this one. It also helps that she loves Joss Whedon, being a big fan of FIREFLY, BUFFY, THE AVENGERS and even CABIN IN THE WOODS. She recognized most of the actors and cheered when Nathan Fillion appeared for the first time. My daughter is awesome!
If you are a Joss Whedon fan, you won’t want to miss this! If you’re a Shakespeare fan, you won’t want to miss this! If you’re fan of comedy, you won’t want to miss this! If you’re a fan of romantic films, you won’t want to miss this! If you like good movies, you won’t want to miss this! In other words, you won’t want to miss this. And those who aren’t too familiar with Shakespeare, don’t let the dialogue scare you. If you give it a chance, I’m sure you’ll get used to it. And you’ll be glad you did, because this is one of the most entertaining movies of the year. It’s funny, charming, witty, and romantic. A terrific date movie. I even have a feeling that this will get better with repeat viewings. Easily the best bet at the theaters this weekend! ★★★½ (out of ★★★★)
– Rated PG-13 for some sexuality and brief drug use.
– Running time: 1hr 48min.