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much ado about nothing whedon movieIn his new film adaptation of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, director Joss Whedon has made a movie which is both funny and affecting – but funnily enough, more affecting than funny.

A great deal of Whedon’s success comes from solid performances by most of the cast and his choice to have his actors read their lines “naturalistically” –  i.e. as normal conversation rather than as the impossibly articulate prose or the poetry it actually is.

The result is that the dramatic elements in Much Ado About Nothing, which I usually find thin and forced, work pretty well in this movie.

Hero and Claudio, the young lovers who can easily come across as pretty blanks, are brought to moderately complex life and real pain by Jillian Morgese and Fran Kranz, enough that I was wiping away a tear or two during Act V and hoping my wife in the next seat didn’t notice.

Clark Gregg as Leonato and especially Reed Diamond as Don Pedro both express the easy humor and hard anger of men used to power. Sean Maher finds a convincing seam of quiet malevolence in the two-dimensional villain Don John. And let me give an enthusiastic shout out to the comic constable Dogberry, who is underplayed by Nathan Fillion to a perfection of sublime silliness.

The major problem in this Much Ado About Nothing comes exactly where the play is – and where I expected Whedon to be – strongest: the brilliant and beloved sparring between Beatrice and Benedick in the first two acts.

This is a result, in part, of the naturalistic line readings that I thought served the weaker elements of the text well. The difficulty is that these passages are performances by Beatrice and Benedict, for the people around them, for each other, and for themselves. Turn them into conversation and you leave the audience crying, “Where’s the sparkle? Where’s the snap?”

Some of the fault lies with the actors, however. Neither Amy Acker as Beatrice or Alexis Denisof as Benedick seem to have clicked with their roles in the early parts of Much Ado About Nothing. The good news is that Acker plays Beatrice transformed by love very well, and is strong during the rest of the film.

On the other hand, Denisof never does much better than muddle through. The idea behind his Benedick appears to be that the character has been made awkward and embarrassed by love. But I could never suppress the impression that it was Denisof playing Benedick awkwardly rather than playing Benedick as awkward.

Don’t let this dissuade you from seeing the movie, however. Overall, I think you’ll be pleased. Whedon filmed this Much Ado About Nothing in a luminous black and white that pleases the eyes. His smooth jazz soundtrack is somewhere between innocuous and fine. And the de rigueur celebration scene and kiss right before the credits will leave you smiling as you exit the theater.

Related Shakespeare Blog Posts:

“Henry V” by William Shakespeare | 100 Word Reviews

“As You Like It” by William Shakespeare | 100 Word Review

The 11 Best Movie Versions of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”

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