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Scattered Thoughts About Joss Whedon's 'Much Ado About Nothing'

Christopher Monigle Christopher Monigle
July 5th, 2013 3:36pm EDT

Joss Whedon

I watched Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing over a week ago and didn't write a review, so I wrote scattered thoughts about it instead because I admire both Joss and William Shakespeare.

-The story about Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing production can found anywhere on the internet. Whedon got his friends together, some cameras, and filmed a wonderful adaptation of one of William Shakespeare's better comedies. Kenneth Branagh's adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing stood as thee adaptation of the play, in my opinion. His Benedick and Emma Thompson's Beatrice are wonderfully portrayed; however, as captivating and engaging as the lead performances, other aspects of his adaptation suffer. Claudio and Hero are among Shakespeare's least interesting characters, and Don John's a poorly written villain with little to motivate him other than the playwright's awareness that he needs a bastard brother to stir drama up in the middle of the play so that frivolity, merriment and dance may end the play. I had no doubts about Whedon's Benedick and Beatrice. Whereas Claudio and Hero rank among the weakest characters Shakespeare wrote, Benedick and Beatrice rank among the best. Beatrice and Rosalind are my two favorite female characters, and Benedick's one of my favorite male characters. The success of any Much Ado About Nothing adaptation hinges on the performances of the leads. Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof were spell-binding in the roles, which is what I completely expected.

Fran Kranz is a favorite of mine since his performance as Topher on Dollhouse, so I watched his Claudio carefully in hopes he'd find some life and bite to the character. Ditto for Jillian Morghese, excluding the bit about Dollhouse since she wasn't in Dollhouse. Kranz added life and bite to the character that isn't quite on the page. Much Ado can be a problematic text to adapt 400 years after Shakespeare wrote it--I'm basically thinking about the dramatic wedding scene in Act III when Claudio lays into Hero because he thinks she's been with another man the night before. I've seen Claudio played as a total dick in that scene, but Kranz brought relatable humanity to the scene. Modern audiences will turn on a character that publicly humiliates a female character for being unchaste, for not being a virgin. Kranz' Claudio seems more hurt by the thought she slept with another man the previous night than by the thought that he'd marry a non-virgin. The staging that makes the scene is when Hero faints and Claudio makes a move to go to her, but Don Pedro leads him away. Claudio walks away like an asshole in the play, but Whedon and Kranz brought new feeling to the character in what's usually the cruelest part of the play. The wedding scene's the only scene that matters for the characters, really, and because of that staging, and the earnest performances of Kranz and Morghese, I think of it fondly.

-The most entertaining duo of the play, besides Benedick and Beatrice, are Dogberry and Verges. Nathan Fillion and Tom Lenk were hilarious in the roles of Dogberry and Verges, respectively. Whedon's adaptation doesn't dig into the idea behind Dogberry's buffoonery. Much Ado is populated by high-born characters with a ridiculous command of the english language, and these characters are completely obsessed with themselves and with each other--they are a collection of Narcissists looking into the water before falling in and drowning. Dogberry's an ass; his command of the language is terrible; he botches interrogations, but he figures out Don John's responsible before any other character considers the bastard. Dogberry provides laughs just when the play could be confused for a tragedy. Shakespeare's comically incompetent characters are usually the wisest in the play (though I'm partial to the Friar as the wisest in Much Ado About Nothing).

-The home of Joss and Kai Whedon is a splendid place to film. Much Ado is filled with beautiful shots and scenes. The early morning pool scene in which Don John plants the seeds of nonsense into Claudio's brain about Hero comes to mind; the outdoor staircase made use of in Benedick's soliloquy about Beatrice. The masquerade party in the back yard had the most sustained beauty of any scene in the play, excluding Amy Acker's presence because she is the most beautiful person in the film. Joss Whedon's composition and arrangement of "Sigh No More" was an unexpected pleasure to hear during that party scene. Once I heard the music strike up, I knew the camera would find Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancheron. Much Ado About Nothing would've been a splendid picture without prior knowledge of Shakespeare because of the involvement of some of my favorite actors and creative types in the world. The Whedonverse gave me so much joy and pleasure over the years. I adored seeing Denisof and Acker play characters whose relationship ended happily. Fans of ANGEL were waiting for that stunning closing shot of Alexis and Amy for over a decade.

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