The announcement of this little flick’s arrival at TIFF this year caused quite a stir amongst many people I know. Even I was curious as to what Whedon would have in store for us with this one, since I knew it was something he’d wanted to do for a long time, and that he’d shot it in his house, which is just cool. I am not, however, a very big fan of the play, and Joss has done nothing I’ve loved so much as Firefly, so I was a little worried about how this would all come together in the end.
You see, if there is one thing Joss Whedon does really well, it’s to write clever and witty dialogue, but since Shakespeare took care of that part for him, I knew that skill wouldn’t factor into this project at all. If there’s ANOTHER thing Whedon excels at, it’s to write strong and complete female characters. But the Bard? Not so much. In fact, as a woman, I am generally disappointed in Shakespearean women at best – and offended by their very existence at worst. Even the ones I like (‘Kate’ in Taming of the Shrew is the only one who comes to mind, presently) could stand to grow a bit more…character and dimension…from time to time.
Anyway, I went into the final screening of Much Ado About Nothing when I knew no one associated with the film would still be in town, and tried to just settle into the actual flick, rather than be coloured by outside emotions, good and bad. I did an okay job, I think. There were some things I didn’t like, of course, but what I did like outweighed the negatives, I believe, and my finaly TIFF 2012 screening was enjoyable overall.
I’ve already said I’m not a fan of the play, so there was some eye-rolling on my part over various things. I don’t much like Fran Kranz as a whole, but I really think Claudio is a useless douche, so my dislike of him actually served to make me enjoy Kranz’s performance in the role. Not that I think Kranz is a douche – just that I was happy to dislike Claudio more than I did going in. I was also concerned with having the openly gay actor cast as the villain in the movie, because that just seemed pretty backwords stereotype-y to me. But, I love Sean Maher, and he totally threw himself into the Don John persona (complete with cheesy evil soundtrack whenever he appears on screen – thanks Joss!), so I can’t really fault anyone for that. Maher rocked it, and the little things like grabbing a cupcake off the display when the wedding fell to pieces were priceless, and ended up being some of my favourite parts of the film.
I’m not sure I like some of the choices Whedon made with this update, either. One big issue I had was with all of the sexual aspects added into the story as sidebars. Chicks on trapezes at the party? Really? And why were only some people wearing masks? More frustrating for me, though, was that – I know this film is looking at the darker aspects of the original comedy, and I know sex and Shakespeare go together like bees and honey – but to me upping the sexual ante took away from Hero’s fall in the story. How disgraced can everyone be when she’s accused of having banged some guy (other than the fiance she just met who wasn’t even the one to woo her in the first place) if literally all of the other characters have been having sex with one another from the get-go? On some level, I think I understand what Whedon was trying to do here, but for me it didn’t work. Well, except it made me uncomfortable, so it at least worked in that sense.
Now, however, on to the things I enjoyed about this particular adaptation. First, all the little visual gags were great, and very Joss-ified, which I love. He has a knack for packing so many little details into his films that you instantly feel the need to go back and watch them a few more times, just to make sure you caught everything. Shot in gorgeous black and white, Much Ado is no different. From the cupcake yoinking to the framed snapshot of Whedon and his wife on a side table, a viewer almost has to go through a second time and JUST watcvh the background. It’s one of the things that makes a Joss Whedon work so much richer and more full than the average piece of cinematic art, and the fact that he has a wicked awesome sense of fun and humour infused into nearly every frame of film makes everything he touches that much better.
Nathan Fillion as Dogberry and the other fools of the Watch provide the exact right amount of comedic tomfoolery without going over the top into outright foolishness. That was a lot of “fools” in one sentence, but we all know Shakespeare loves ’em, and so do I. Fillion in particular has a real gift for comedy, and I believe it is in the way he plays it with such genuine sincerity. As Dogberry, who is absolutely serious in his work and in his interactions with other people, Nathan Fillion plays it all as the straight man. He’s not trying to be funny; he is not attempting to come across the Fool. He has no idea that every other word out of his mouth is incorrect for the meaning he intends, and he doesn’t take the time to make sure that anyone even understands what he’s trying to say. He genuinely believes he is doing a good job, and no one is better at bringing such a well-meaning idiot to life on screen than Nathan Fillion.
That was meant to come out sounding more complimentary than it did – just know this to be true: Fillion was hilariously flawless. 🙂
And that brings me to Amy Acker in the role of Beatrice. As a character, I actually like Beatrice most of the time, but I feel like Shakespeare wrote her just so he could have her get a little played in the end, much like Shrew’s Kate. Alexis Denisof as her sparring mate, Benedict, was wonderfully arrogant and much fun to watch throughout. But honestly, to my mind, Amy Acker acted the pants off of pretty much everyone, every single moment she was on screen. She was warm, witty, sassy, sexy, clumsy, and beautiful, and Acker made Beatrice as Hero’s sole ally after her alleged disgrace so much more poignant than I’d ever seen her portrayed before. I absolutely loved watching Acker bring this role to life, and for me she was the reason I felt most rewarded for having traded in a ticket for something else to make sure I took in a screening of Much Ado. Amy Acker just seems to be getting better and better, and I’m so happy that I got to see this particular step in her evolution as an actor.
Ironic, really, that in a film where I was worried about the portrayal of women through the female characters, that it would be a woman who made it most awesomely watchable for me, isn’t it? I guess Joss knows what he’s doin’, after all! 😉
Overall, even though there were a couple of small things that didn’t work well for me, I actually do recommend seeing this adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing. It’s engaging, it’s uber funny, and it’s a bit of a different take from any that you’ve seen before. All of that and so much more makes it innately worth watching, and rumour has it that the film has been picked up, so watch for it to hit theatres hopefully in the near future!
Just…don’t be surprised if you find yourself wishing for Joss to invite you and his friends over for a barbeque or something. Chances are that won’t happen. But don’t be surprised to find you’d really wish it would!
Much Ado About Nothing screened as part of the Toronto International Film Festival. Grr Arrg.