The story of how Joss Whedon filmed his dream movie, Much Ado About Nothing (2012), is by now as well known as the film itself. Straight from directing the mega-hit The Avengers (2012), Whedon gathered together some of his oft used actor friends at his home in Santa Monica for a top secret, (He had to take away Nathan Fillion’s phone to prevent the actor from tweeting about it) 12 day shoot complete with costumes borrowed directly from his wife’s closet and food cooked by family friends for the cast and crew. What results is an intimate, funny, surprisingly moving film about the twists and turns of love- as only Shakespeare could write them.
The thing that makes Much Ado About Nothing so different from many Shakespearean adaptations is the feeling. Unlike Baz Luhrmann’s sprawling Romeo + Juliet (1996) or even Kenneth Branagh’s famous, very British adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing (1993), Whedon’s film feels like a small house party with some of your own friends. That’s probably because that is exactly what this film is. However, Whedon does not allow the film to fall into the home movie category; rather it is his attention to detail and camera work that elevate this film from being a simple household affair. And what a house it is. Characters come in a room through one door and exit through another creating the idea of a large space with many nooks and crannies. They dance on the patio bathed in moonlight, eavesdrop through spaces in bookcases, and (in one of the film’s funniest scenes) they lurk outside large glass windows. The setting allows the characters to interact in new ways especially with the camera as it weaves in and out to follow them. One tracking shot follows two characters through a bookshelf allowing the audience to see only some of their facial expressions during the conversation, placing us in the role of voyeur throughout the film. It is with these subtle camera movements that Whedon proves once again that he is as good at making “if-I-wasn’t-Joss-Whedon-this-would-be-considered-indie” movies as he is at making things blow up.
But many forget that that is precisely where Whedon got his start. He has built a career off of creating characters we care about from the I-wish-I-watched-it Buffy the Vampire Slayer, to Firefly and Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. Much Ado is no different. The cast is strong and engaging with stand out performances by Amy Acker as Beatrice and Alexis Denisof as Benedick. They have great chemistry and can embody both the comedic and the heartbroken with ease. Watching their banter will make even the most confused of high school students understand Shakespeare’s language.
Another favorite of mine is Clark Gregg who proves that he is more than just Agent Coulson with his performance as Leonato, the father of Hero. During the darker scenes he shows a range of emotion that brought me close to tears. He exudes comfort in front of the camera which makes him a pleasure to watch. It is no wonder Whedon has invited him to be a part of the selective club of actors that appear in many of this films.
Fran Kranz as Claudio reminded me of an older, less British Arthur Darvill, but I thought he played his part with just the right amount of naivety and anger. Jillian Morgese played a beautiful, if mostly silent Hero. Most of the time her emotions were expressed in glances, making the moments when she did speak all the more powerful.
I also cannot forget to mention Reed Diamond as the equal parts smooth and kind Don Pedro. I especially enjoyed the scenes he was in for his magnetism and the ease at which he is able to spin Shakespeare’s text. The only members of the cast I found unimpressive were the devious trio lead by Sean Maher as Don John. He, Spencer Treat Clark (Borachio) and Riki Lindhome (Conrade) were average in a cast that otherwise soared. And even though this Shakespeare is all modern, they seemed out of place.
Overall, Much Ado proves that to make a great film all you need is a great cast and a little bit of camera work. Nothing exploded, there was no CGI, special effects, or 3D. Even lacking the elements that typically make up a summer popcorn flick, Much Ado About Nothing is still my favorite movie of the summer so far because of the way it captures that exuberant summer feeling of partying with friends, falling in and out of love, and the hilarity that ensues along the way.