High school English teachers can breathe a sigh of relief. If students want to take a cinematic shortcut studying William Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, filmmaker Joss Whedon has made a superb adaptation that burns brightly with the wit and romance of The Bard's work. It brilliantly delivers ye old fashioned entertainment with a slick makeover. The governor of Messina, Leonato (Clark Gregg), is visited by his friend Don Pedro (Reed Diamond) who is returning from a victorious campaign against his rebellious brother Don John (Sean Maher). Accompanying Don Pedro are two of his officers, Benedick (Alexis Denisof) and Claudio (Fran Kranz). Claudio falls for Leonato's daughter Hero (Jillian Morgese), while Benedick verbally spars with the governor's niece Beatrice (Amy Acker).
There is elegance in the minimalist approach Whedon takes to the material and it pays off big time. Shot in one location using black and white photography means maximum attention is paid to the actors and the wonderful words that spill from their mouths. Whedon doesn't use any gimmicks with the modern setting, nor does he aspire to make the film act as a commentary on life in 2013. It would have been nice to see Whedon build on the material in a minor way, but it's mostly a loving cuddle from a huge Shakespeare fan and the passion is infectious. The excellent work from cinematographer, Jay Hunter, ensures there's a lot of light and warmth in every frame despite the absence of colour. There is an authenticity and timeless feel to the black and white visuals that speak volumes about the timeless appeal of Shakespeare's work. The comedic moments are hilarious and Shakespeare's insults as scathing as ever. The physical humour is side splitting as love makes a fool of most of the characters, and Whedon has a wild time indulging in their playfulness. Villains make time for mischief throughout the story and the drama has an impact during the moments of betrayal and misdirection.
The cast is excellent and the ensemble handles the dialogue with ease, it feels organic and unique to each character. Acker and Denisof are absolutely delightful in each other's company both in love and hate. Acker is perfect as Beatrice; she is feisty and intelligent but a romantic at heart. Desinof delivers a brilliant performance and most of the film's best moments come from his oafish charm and blind confidence combined with the characters misguided attempt to stay a bachelor for life. Kranz and Morgese personify young love untouched by cynicism and Maher is especially slimy as the chief mischief maker. Nathan Fillion makes a brief but highly amusing appearance as Dogberry, the head of the bumbling security team for Leonarto.
Prepare to be absolutely smitten with Much Ado About Nothing. In a sea of noisy, destructive and empty big budget blockbusters Whedon shows that there is beauty in simplicity.
[rating=4] and a half
Cameron Williams - follow Cam on Twitter here: @popcornjunkies
Much Ado About Nothing is released on July 11th 2013 in Australia