Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Watch This! Much Ado About Nothing

Remember when I told you how excited I was for Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing?

Well, last night I saw it.  And it was awesome.  And you need to see it too.  Four hundred year old spoilers ahead...

Okay, I'm going to get the "cons" of the film out of the way so I can hurry on to the good stuff, 'kay?

Marry, as much as I adore Alexis Denisof, his performance in the first bit of the movie is a little wooden.  For the first couple scenes, I was quite aware that he was acting.  But he really hit his stride in the scene where Don Pedro, Leonato, and Claudio are setting him up to fall in love.  That bit of physical comedy seemed to jump start him, and from there on, all was well, and ended well, too.

Sixth and lastly, though I didn't see it, the Dude said the actress playing Conrade kept looking at the camera in the scene where Claudio and Don Pedro learn they have been duped into accusing Hero.  The Dude found it distracting, and it would serve to sort of break the fourth wall.

Thirdly, the film is not being shown in most theaters near me, which is the greatest downside of the film, and to conclude, you need to see it anyway.

Got it?  Okay, moving on.

I'm having a difficult time figuring out where to begin with the things I liked about the film--there were a lot.

Going into the movie, I was curious to see how the casting would play out (see what I did there?).  Beatrice is usually cast and acted as a brash character who can hardly wait to get her next dig in. Amy Acker plays the part differently.  If you've seen her as Fred in Angel or the doctor in Dollhouse, you'll know she excels at bringing a delicacy to boldness.  What I mean is this:  where one might expect a character to puff out her chest and have a "bring it on, dude" attitude, Amy Acker manages to show an underlying vulnerability which makes that kind of brashness more sympathetic.  Her Beatrice is deeply sympathetic--haven't we all trash-talked an ex at one point or another?

DON PEDRO:  Come, lady, you have lost the heart of Signior Benedick.

BEATRICE:  Indeed, my lord, he lent it me awhile, and I gave him use for it, a double heart for his single one.  marry, once before he won it of me with false dice.  Therefore your Grace may well say I have lost it.

(Act 2, scene 1)

And Clark Gregg as Leonato was simply incredible.  Much Ado is one of my favorite Shakespeare plays, and I've seen multiple versions of it, filmed and live.  Gregg's performance was without a doubt the best I've seen.  His anger, betrayal, and violence-tinged grief when Hero is accused marked the first time the scene almost had me in tears, and definitely the first time my sole consuming thought wasn't You should be on her side, dummy.  Gregg played the part with such aplomb that for the first time, I felt sympathy for Leonato and Hero both.

As a whole, I love the way the cast worked as a unit.  In this production, it didn't seem to be a play about Benedick and Beatrice, with some other characters giving them things to do--it was truly an ensemble cast.  Some people may consider the fact that those two weren't always front and center a downside, but it really let the rest of the cast--parts that are often just fodder for Benedick and Beatrice's antics--to shine believably.

And that's another thing.  This play has lots of slapstick, "big" comedy in it, between Benedick/Beatrice listening in where they shouldn't be and of course Dogberry and the other men of the night watch (Nathan Fillion was fantastic as expected, btvw.  Though Tom Lenk as Verges might have just managed to upstage him.  His fumbling sunglass-whipping--a la CSI Miami--had me in stitches.  And the two other watchmen perfectly nailed the "my boss is an idiot" thing.).  Most productions I've seen have turned up the physical comedy to 11.

This production, however, was treated above all with subtlety, enhanced by fact it was filmed in black and white.  From this, Hero gained a strength of character (not just an obedient foil to Beatrice, with just about as much depth) usually not seen.  Leonato, as I mentioned before, was finally a sympathetic character.  Conrade didn't melt into the background--that other bad one, you know.  Sean Maher as Don John wasn't a mustachio-twisting cardboard villain.  And the humor, then, was likewise more subtle--and no less laughter-inducing for it.

I also really liked the fact that it was set in the present day.  If you're familiar with Whedon's body of work at all, you know he likes his women strong, and he's very aware of the issues women face.  By setting this work today, lines such as, "Oh, that I were a man" take on a significance not usually present.  Yes, yes, but it's not like that now, the audience can think.  Not so in this production, where these lines highlight the extent to which things are still like that.

Look, here's the thing:

If you like Joss Whedon, you should see this film.
If you like Shakespeare, you should see this film.
If you like strong female characters, you should see this film.
If you like a great cast, you should see this film.
If you like to fangirl out over Nathan Fillion and/or Agent Phil Coulson, you should see this film.
If you like good movies, you should see this film.

Actually, I'd argue that if you breathe, you should see it.  Yeah, it's that good.  Hopefully, it's in a theater near you.  Otherwise, aren't you due for a road trip?

(True:  Interesting further reading on the "pre-history" of Beatrice and Benedick can be found here.)


  1. "Well done," she says, thumbing through the movie pages in the newspaper, frantic to find it nearby. :D

  2. Ay, there's the rub (sorry, wrong Shakespeare reference) - finding a theatre anywhere near me that is actually showing the film. Still looking :-(

    1. That's the biggest downfall of the movie--that it's not as easily accesible as it ought to be.