I am not a Shakespeare fan, but I am a Joss Whedon fan. I actually think Whedon’s dialogue is better because it is eloquent and articulate, yet clear and understandable. To me, writing an entire play in fancy pentameter is overkill so none of the clever prose really stands out. But Whedon gave me Cabin in the Woods and The Avengers so I can tough it out for his own pet project.
You’re probably better off reading Cliff notes than my plot summary, but basically Beatrice (Amy Acker) and Benedick (Alexis Denisof) are a rom-com pair who hate each other until they realize they love each other. Prepping for Claudio (Fran Kranz) and Hero (Jillian Morgese)’s wedding, the bride and groom’s parties, including the help, each conspire to make Benedick and Beatrice think the other is in love with them. They talk to be overheard, plant notes, the usual Hollywood rom-com shenanigans.
I actually got a lot more out of Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing than I did when my 9th grade English class went to see a production of the play. I can see the planting of seeds in Beatrice and Benedick’s heads. I see when Benedick is in disguise and Beatrice doesn’t know she’s talking to him, probably because I recognize Denisof and Acker so I identify with them more than a distant theater performer. I get the wedding scene, when Claudio gets mad. The words are crazy but the emotion is painful.
I even got many of the jokes from the play itself. Not all of them, but I get the Shakespearean comedy now. “When I said I would die a bachelor I did not think I would live until I was married.” I get that! Pains and thanks, I get that. “I’d hold my mind were she an Ethiope.” I know what that means but that’s not really funny.
Whedon shot this film at his own house and really milked the entire location for slapstick. The garden and the kitchen become a playground for pratfalls. Plus, we get a tour of Joss Whedon’s house! It does look like some dude’s house, perhaps even more homemade than Dr. Horrible. Or maybe I just like the genre of Dr. Horrible so much that I see what it’s supposed to represent, and with Shakespeare I see a casual production. Either way, not everyone can make a feature film in their own house, so props.
I believe the comedy and I believe the romance. Denisof really shows how Benedick convinces himself to fall for Beatrice, and Acker is lovely in her sniping and moments of vulnerability. Kranz gets to be eloquent, not the awkward nerd or stoner. Nathan Fillion does Shakesepeare goofy, so that’s a comedic bit in itself. His jacket bit with Tom Lenk is more original slapstick. It’s nice to see all the Whedon regulars.
It’s not primo Joss but it’s a quirky side project. I accept that Shakespeare is a thing that creative people like, so I take it as an insight into a talent whose entire body of work I follow. It’s no Romeo + Juliet: The Gangsta Version but it’s a more than fair entry into the cinematic Shakespeare canon.