by Christine Cover Ferro
Much Ado About Nothing brings together everything that makes Joss Whedon Joss Whedon (and Whedonites a rabidly particularly devoted fanbase), and the end result is a rare treat indeed: a handling of the Bard that is as effortless and organic as it is clever and self-aware.
There is an airiness throughout that makes you forget you’re experiencing Shakespeare and the weight and burden that can come with that (yes, even the comedies). Whedon and team come by it honestly: a decade-plus-long tradition of Shakespeare nights, held at the very house where this was shot, no less, would give a lot of the players a facility with the material that frees them up to play with it and make it their own.
Alums from BTVS, Angel, Firefly/Serenity and Dollhouse, along with a few newcomers, don’t so much perform as breathe life into their roles, making all the nuance and complexity of their words feel easy, like a group of very articulate old friends (and nemeses) deep in their own conversations. Nathan Fillion’s Dogberry is an especially effective bit of understatement, switching out stock buffoonery for a quiet sincerity that ends up stealing every scene he’s in.
That same ease carries over in the visual, with the Masquerade Ball as a particular standout. Whedon and DP Jay Hunter slow down here, giving the party a lovely grace and languor that serves as a nice palate cleanser before we jump into the twists and intrigues of the last three acts.
Now, because this is, after all, Shakespearean comedy filtered through the mind of one of the sharpest and snarkiest filmmakers of his time, the story is punctuated with some great bits of humor both high and low. The absurd but brilliant use of Barbie’s Dream House as a set piece got the first laugh at the screening I attended, and the staged revelations of Beatrice and Benedick’s supposed love for each other are used as an opening for some terrific slapstick by both Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker.
Likely as a nod to the limitations of modernizing a story written in 1598, rampant lampshading is subtle and scenery chewing pops up throughout -- for the most part very successfully. Some epic side-eye off Claudio’s line “I would marry her were she an Ethiope” got, by far, the biggest laugh of the night.
And lastly, the fandom finally gets to see Wesley and Fred reach their happy ending.
All told, a delightful way to spend a couple of hours.Much Ado About Nothing opens in Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco tomorrow, June 7 and nationwide on Friday June 21.
Photo credit: Elsa Guillet-Chapuis