Much Ado About Nothing
is all about trickery. The comedy—one of Shakespeare’s best—centers on two strong-minded singles, Beatrice and Benedick, each determined never to love and never to marry. Until, of course, their friends decide to play matchmaker. Like those sly friends holding the strings, Joss Whedon is a masterful puppeteer himself. After wrapping The Avengers
, the director retreated to his airy Santa Monica home, corralled some friends and, over the course of 12 days, secretly filmed his adaptation of Much Ado
. It’s shot in black-and-white, often with a handheld camera, but it’s set in the present day. Yet the text is still Shakespeare’s, even if the actors’ cadence and mannerisms feel modern. It’s a dizzying, and initially jarring, mix of styles. But don’t doubt puppeteer Whedon: Just like the film’s characters, he knows when to loosen hold of the strings and let his capable players take over. Simply put, Whedon’s take on the Bard is one of the loveliest films I’ve seen this year. While it has an off-the-cuff nonchalance, it’s grounded by precise performances, careful camera work and a sharp understanding of the gender politics at play. And wisely, the cast plays it more like a Shakespeare-themed dinner party than a self-serious affair. Amy Acker, whose features are as sharp as her tongue, makes her Beatrice a fierce-minded feminist hero. Alexis Denisof, meanwhile, brings an endearing daftness and goofball sense of vanity to his Benedick, striking farcically dramatic poses and dropping for push-ups when he sees Beatrice. Visually, Whedon keeps viewers engaged with unexpected framing and smart sight gags. But most surprising is how bold this Much Ado
feels. Shakespeare often gets outlandish updates in live theater, and brash film adaptations are hardly new. Whedon’s Much Ado
, though, strikes an especially impressive balance of loyalty and audacity, embracing its source text while still having some serious fun.