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Much Ado About Nothing

2012 | 107 min | PG-13 | 1.85:1

Much Ado About Nothing


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1 user review

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Theatrical release date

 07 June, 2013
 14 June, 2013

Country of origin

 United States

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Much Ado About Nothing


Screenshots from Much Ado About Nothing Blu-ray

Much Ado About Nothing Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, June 20, 2013

In 1993, Kenneth Branagh attempted a lush, cinematic take on William Shakespeare’s famous play, “Much Ado About Nothing.” Attempting to counterpunch contextual impenetrability, Branagh turned the stage production into a luscious screen event, boasting stunning Italian countryside locations, heavenly golden bodies, and an all-star cast bent on challenging themselves with a rare outing of sophistication. It was a beautiful film, and perhaps bold enough to discourage beloved writer/director Joss Whedon from matching its sense of euphoria. His “Much Ado About Nothing” elects the opposite approach, refusing production polish, varied locations, and even color. It’s a stripped-down take on the Bard, ready-made for Whedon acolytes -- certainly interesting, but once you go Branagh, it’s difficult to go back.

In the suburbs of Los Angeles, Don Pedro (Reed Diamond) has arrived with Claudio (Fran Kranz), who’s fallen in love with host Leonato’s (Clark Gregg) virginal daughter, Hero (Jillian Morgese). As weekend festivities commence, Benedick (Alexis Denisof) is convinced he wants nothing to do with Leonato’s niece, Beatrice (Amy Acker), yet some pronounced chicanery in the house has sparked the possibility of romance between the warring pair, leading to misunderstandings, flirtations, and disappointments. Hoping to disrupt any warmth in the air, Don Pedro’s brother, Don Jon (Sean Maher), plans to destroy the possibility of marriage between Claudio and Hero by sullying the sweet girl’s good name with help from maid Margaret (Ashley Johnson) and young associate Borachio (Spencer Treat Clark), inserting doubt about purity into his nephew’s mind. Also on the prowl is cop Dogberry (Nathan Fillion), who keeps order despite his ineptitude, helping to sort out the woe that plagues this time of celebration.

Whedon’s take on “Much Ado About Nothing” is a backyard production, filmed over a short period of time on his own property, with the action confined to bedrooms, kitchens, and yards, creating a restricted space to play out the conflicts. The picture is also shot in black and white for reasons that aren’t immediately clear, though the argument could be made that such a cinematographic choice does wonders to class up the effort, making the minimal budget feel slightly more dignified in this colorless world of parties, accusations, and monologues. The cold reality is that Whedon’s work resembles a senior thesis film, offering permissiveness with actors, camera bumps, and a strained cocktail-hour atmosphere, topped off with light jazz tunes to set the mood. In the name of interpretation, it’s noteworthy in its rough design, but the movie lacks a cinematic high to make the material spark to life, leaving those without a profound appreciation for the text or Whedon on the outside looking in, waiting for the feature to show signs of life.

Maybe “Much Ado About Nothing” is strictly an insider effort. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with this approach, the exclusivity does dial down the glow of Shakespeare’s work, fused here with the “Whedonverse,” surveying a throng of the filmmaker’s favorite actors mugging their way through iambic pentameter. The acting is broad to respect theatrical origins, yet stiffness remains, with a few members of the cast unprepared for the tongue-twisting dialogue challenge, failing to make the characters as meaty as originally written. Out of the ensemble, Acker and Denisof capture the careful balance of spirit and shenanigans, delivering heartfelt performances as the opposites slowly attract, embodying the flavors of romantic pairing that inspire and confound Shakespeare. Fillion has his moments as well, though he’s portraying a doofy man in Dogberry, allowed to engage in more physical comedy to lighten the feature.

“Much Ado About Nothing” has its fair share of graceful beats, stunning shots, and nicely juggled soliloquies, while the core betrayals of the play are generously preserved. However, it’s hard to shake how slight the film is, despite its electric elements of confrontation and swoon. Your mileage may vary on its waves of puckish comedic magic and illusions of tragedy, but rarely does Whedon make the material his own in a manner that his moviemaking peers have managed to do.

Starring: Amy Acker, Emma Bates, Sara Blindauer, Alexis Denisof, Nathan Fillion, Clark Gregg
Director: Joss Whedon

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