Saturday, June 15, 2013


Shot in his own house and made in between the hours dedicated to his "Avengers," Joss Whedon's Shakespeare adaptation "Much Ado About Nothing" is certainly the writer-director's passion project. The family-and-friends production may feel like something he created as a vacation from his other work, which -- surprise -- that's actually the case, but that doesn't deter the piece from being any less fully-realized and richly entertaining.

Created wholly inside Whedon's own production company, he even took a leap to score the film himself and cast friends Amy Acker as Beatrice and Alexis Denisof as Benedick, the play's leads, after he was inspired by their reading Shakespeare together at his home. The nature of the film, what he calls a noir comedy, matches that sentiment, shot on handheld cameras in beautiful black-and-white to enhance the intimacy. With great precision and love for the context, Whedon pares down the passages choosing the bits that bite and the humor that stings without ever dumbing down or swapping out for more common dialect.

Whedon's gorgeous home which contains the entirety of the play becomes a character in itself through an extended boozy party-turned-wedding. Claudio (Fran Kranz) is madly in love with Leonato's (Clark Gregg) daughter, Hero (Jillian Morgese), and requests her hand in marriage. Convinced that love can conquer all, Claudio and Don Pedro (Reed Diamond) hatch a scheme to bring together the quarreling Benedick and Beatrice against their own wishes. The witty barbs and verbal sparring that unfolds shows where Whedon's love for storytelling lies and -- more telling -- reveals why the interplay between the quibbling superheroes was the best part of "The Avengers."

He also doesn't shy away from a generous use of slapstick which ups the humor, and on the flip side he certainly doesn't avoid delving into the pathos behind Shakespeare's words. When Claudio discovers Hero's betrayal the night before their wedding, the drama is potent. And in stretching to both ends of the light/dark emotional spectrum, so do the actors. Most notable is Nathan Fillion as the bumbling Dogberry whose affronts and offenses are the film's most delightful moments. "Much Ado" may be slight, but it's fun -- and shows us a singular voice coming from a filmmaker who refuses to be muffled by his gargantuan Marvel duties.

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