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Much Ado About Nothing

Joss Whedon's deft direction makes thoughtful use of gesture and physical comedy in this Shakespeare re-do

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In the canon of William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing is probably the most difficult work — to mess up: It's charming and familiar, a diptych love story with two happy endings, albeit with a slightly dark middle as conflicts play out.

Joss Whedon's new filming takes place in the California present, but the language is all Shakespeare. The story revolves around Benedick (Alexis Denisof), a playboy who vows never to marry, and Beatrice (Amy Acker), the independent woman who banters with him (Kate and Petruchio light). Their romance parallels that of the younger Claudio (a standout Fran Kranz) and Hero (Jillian Morgese).

One wonders why Whedon (of TV's fine Buffy the Vampire Slayer) would fool around with junk like Firefly when he has this in him. His deft direction makes thoughtful use of gesture and physical comedy, and most of his actors are spot-on (although blondes can't do Shakespeare — unless that's Whedon's subtlest joke). Benedick is a rather glib corporate stiff, so Denisof takes some patience, and Acker is a wry, self-confident Beatrice. But they don't seem to enjoy their sparring, which gives this adaptation a more mature demeanor. And it's shot (needlessly) in black and white, perhaps to allow the words and performances to provide the color, as they ably do. Starts Fri., June 14. Manor

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