Movie Review: "Much Ado About Nothing" (2013)

Some things can’t be said (by me) without coming off uncharacteristically snooty; one of those things is that I am a fan of Shakespeare. Not a huge fan mind you, as the extent of my reading was done in high school and college, but I can confidently say, for instance, that “Hamlet” is one of my all time favorite literary pieces of all time. I mean, when Mufasa died? Don’t even get me started!

That being said, I was only vaguely familiar with “Much Ado About Nothing”. I remembered the general plot and some of the bigger twists. Though I wasn’t a huge fan of that particular comedy when I first studied it ways back when, I am a huge fan of Joss Whedon. More as a filmmaker than a television…maker (I didn't feel "Angel", "Firefly" or "Dollhouse"). Yeah, Whedon has used the proverbial Shakespearean elements in his previous works, but the mix still seemed a tad strange to me when I first heard that he was making a ‘modern’ adaptation of “Much Ado About Nothing”.

I don’t know why, honestly; the man is yet to fail me. I’ve learned to trust his every instinct—he could announce he’s making a porno starring my grandmother in 2014 and I’d be all over it.

All over the movie, not . . . my grand—

Right, so “Much Ado About Nothing” is a triumph of independent cinema. I know, “From the guy who directed the third highest grossing movie of all time, comes a triumph of indie cinema” sounds like a dying critic’s demented rambles, but this movie isn’t anything if not indie. Joss Whedon produced, directed, wrote for the screen, edited, and composed. It’s shot in black and white, probably more as a scheme to save cash than a stylistic choice, shot entirely and secretly in Whedon’s own home (beautiful pad, goddamn) and acted almost exclusively by Whedon’s regulars, family and friends—those of you who like his previous work will know this is a good thing. We’re talking Amy Acker, Nathan Fillion (who is fucking hysterical), the ridiculously likable Fran Kranz, Alexis Denisof, Clark Gregg, Ashley Johnson, Tom Lenk, Sean Maher, and more.

Their familiarity with Whedon and of course with each other allows for an intoxicating chemistry between the cast—especially between Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof who also played ‘lovers’ in “Angel”. In the same way, Whedon’s familiarity with the actors allows him to know exactly how to direct them, which is great in a movie where acting is pretty much the most important goddamn thing.

This is a comedy of course, but Shakespearean at that, so melodrama is a huge part of the experience. Despite the absurd amount of laugh-out-loud moments that stem from clever turns of phrase and Whedonian visual subtlety, the moments of drama hit very hard thanks to the brilliant acting. Fran Kranz, whom I was only familiar with from “The Cabin In The Woods” where he kicked ungodly amounts of ass, in particular was intense as hell. Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof also flexed some massive thespian muscle.

Visually it’s a stunner. Whedon has a great eye to make use of everything on screen despite the obvious limitations of shooting exclusively in his home. Two shots in particular, one of which involves a funerary procession halfway through the movie, were eye-melting and would have felt right in a Lars Von Trier movie.

Whedon is very good in making self-aware media without resorting to tired “meta” stuff (re: “The Cabin in the Woods”, which never winked at the audience in the way movies like "Scream" do) and it reflects here. He seems aware of the fundamentally funny absurdity of a Shakespearean story supposedly set in 16th century Sicily but obviously shot in LA in modern times (iPhones are hilariously displayed on-screen), and a lot of the melodrama is made funny through subtle details that don’t involve just the acting—every time Don John was on-screen, the soundtrack was goddamn hilarious. Oh right, the soundtrack is beautiful; yes, the score is nothing special, but the songs written for the movie are gorgeous. I want them in my iPod now.

But I guess the bottom line here is that the movie is absolutely hilarious and for all the right reasons. It’s not even high-concept complex humor; it’s accessible while remaining completely Shakespearean and anyone with a sense of humor would find him/herself slapping their knees constantly. It’s Shakespeare, but it’s fun in a very traditional way. Yeah this is going to turn off a lot of snooty assholes, but is still a pretty huge achievement.
I feel the need to tell everyone to go watch this movie, not only because you just have to support this effort (come on, a guy who can by now do fucking anything in Hollywood decides to do a micro-budget Shakespeare adaptation, and nails it? Speaks volumes of his artistic reach) but because it’s just such a good time.

So yeah, go watch it. I’m convinced that this will convince Whedon detractors of the writer/director’s capacity for gold, or will just prove them to be stubborn contrarians. It’s both Whedonian and not Whedonian and should please both fans and critics. I know it’s a stupid thing to say, but there really isn’t much to dislike in this movie unless you’re trying really goddamn hard; this is thus far my definite favorite movie of 2013.

Fun fact: "Nothing" was an euphemism for 'vagina'. The title of this play was a shameless, dirty pun.
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About The Damn Beast

Pre-op trans-minotaur, sci-fi/fantasy/horror author, metal singer, videogame journalist, pop culture blogger. I also lift heavy things and put them down again repeatedly to occupy more space.
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