Tuesday, 9 July 2013
FILM REVIEW: MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING
"Better to be a bird of my tongue than a beast of yours," fires back Beatrice (Amy Acker) at her frien-emy, antagoniser and possible soul mate, Benedick (Alexis Denisof), in the first of a series of on-going verbal stoushes between the two in William Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing.
And perhaps there was no better tongue (bird or beast) to adapt the Bard's comedy of romantic entanglements and manipulations than writer-director, Joss Whedon. The creator of hit TV shows Buffy and Angel, and the more cult-ish Firefly and Dollhouse -- not to mention the helm's man of the highest-grossing film of 2012, Marvel's The Avengers -- has a flair for witty vernacular, delivered at rapid fire pace, and generously distributed amongst an ensemble of players.
There's no Sarah Michelle Gellar (Buffy) or David Boreanaz (Angel) (or sadly, The Avengers' Robert Downey Jnr and Gwyneth Paltrow) among Much Ado's ensemble -- plucked from a selection of Whedon's film and TV casts and working for next to nothing on the film which was shot over various weekends (and in black on white) at the director's home, and all on the hush-hush -- but that doesn't make the experience any less entertaining.
The plot of Much Ado is concerned with the impending nuptials of young lovers, Claudio (Fran Kanz) and Hero (Jillian Morgese), daughter of Leonato (The Avengers' Agent Coulson, Clark Gregg), whose house is not only hosting the wedding but playing prison to three traitors, one the brother of Leonato's best friend, Don Pedro (Reed Diamond).
Those three prisoners (Sean Maher, Riki Lindhome, and Spencer Treat Clark), in a somewhat distracting sub plot, plan to foil the wedding by poisoning Claudio's mind about the virtue of his bride. At the same time, Leonato, his daughter and guests decide to play a game at the expense of the cynical, love-doubting duo of Beatrice and Benedick; allowing each to believe the other is in love with them and seeing if, or rather, how quickly the romantic seed takes to bloom.
And Much Ado About Nothing is very much about Beatrice and Benedick. One can imagine the pair were perhaps the prototype for the 'sparring lovers' films made famous by Katharine Hepburn and the likes of Cary Grant and Spencer Tracey with their comic collaborations in the 1940s and '50s (though Acker is physically more Audrey than Katharine, and Denisof, though terrific, is no Cary Grant).
The black and white cinematography (by Jay Hunter) certainly gives Whedon's Much Ado a screwball, rom-com vibe of old, and the slapstick and physical comedy employed by Acker and Denisof has its charm amplified by its disarmingly playful innocence. (Special mention must also be made of Nathan Fillion (star of Firefly and now TV's Bones), who, as Leonato's head of security, makes an ass of himself and effortlessly steals each of his scenes in the process.)
I've never read Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, nor seen any of the previous film versions -- the most recent being Kenneth Branagh's 1993 adaptation starring himself, and then-wife Emma Thompson, as the sparring couple, as well as Denzel Washington and Keanu Reeves -- and it didn't much matter. The iambic pentameter may take a little adjusting to, but the barbs and especially the laughs hit their targets in equal measure: funny is funny, whatever the language.
And Much Ado About Nothing is one of the funniest, most charming films of the year. Get thee to a theatre, post-haste.