How do you know you've made it in Hollywood? You tell a major studio like Disney that you want a month off so you can make a movie you and your wife have dreamt of doing for over a decade. That's exactly what Joss Whedon (The Avengers, Cabin in the Woods) did when he filmed his adaptation of Williams Shakespeare's play at his house with his friends in only 12 days. Considering he's tackeled sci-fi, horror, superheros and now this (and done them ALL successfully), he has proven himself a true auteur.
Writing a review of a Shakespeare film feels like something that's above my pay grade but a job's a job. I enjoy Shakespeare but I would never consider myself an expert, which is why I brought my new friend Hank along who actually is. He schooled me on whether or not this really was a well done adaptation and according to him, it is. My knowledge of Shakespeare is moderate at best and stops at the big ones; such as Hamlet, MacBeth, Julius Caesar, Romeo and Juliet and this. I've dabbled in ones like The Tempest, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Richard III, but I stick to what I know for the most part. Regardless of your background or knowledge of Shakespeare, this version of Much Ado About Nothing is the most accessible and easy to enjoy by anyone with even an ounce-of-a-brain.
Compared to Shakespeare's comedies, I think this one is the funniest and Whedon doesn't miss a single beat allowing his impressive cast to shine and spread their comedic wings. No one steals the spotlight more than Nathan Fillion (Firefly, Super) who proves he should be in pretty much everything Hollywood puts out. Not only is he amazingly funny but he also performs the lines of Shakespeare like he's made a career on it. Another shock in the cast was Fran Kranz (Cabin in the Woods, Training Day) who has done great comedy in the past but really shows his range here. No one from the cast is dead weight which makes soggy performances like Clark Gregg (The Avengers, the Iron Man series) seem soggier than they actually are.
Be warned though that this is in the Shakespeare dialogue but Whedon has set it in modern times at a gorgeous mansion in the Hollywood Hills. What he does to set it current isn't overly creative since it's something we've now seem done time and time again but it's his direction and crafting of the performances that makes this so wonderful. He really captures all emotions that the play can offer, both in romance and comedy. It's probably the hardest you'll laugh at any Shakespeare film and one of the funniest movies of the year. His choice of shooting it in black and white seemed unneccessary and pretentious but that's the only misfire; and considering that aside from directing it, he also wrote, produced, editted it AND did all the music for it, it's a forgivable offense.
I remember the days when a teacher would offer you extra credit if you would go see something like this and bring in your ticket stub. Most of the class would do it but either hate every second of it, make out in the back row or leave and go see something playing in another theater. If you're patient and sit through the first 20 minutes, which are slow and a tad confusing, you'll be rewarded with a film you'd watch without the promise of extra credit and might even turn you on to explore other Shakespeare productions. Much Ado About Nothing (Rated PG-13)
Gavin Grade: A