There are some things in life that cannot be missed:
Sunsets, rainbows, birthdays, awesome features of human progression and achievement, Jeff Goldblum in a Cowboy suit, frogs attempting to hug frustrated bunnies. The list is endless.
Then there are some other unmissable things that are in a class of their own entirely. These will be different for every person in the world we know and they have the incredible capability to change a persons life forever.
Wow. I really have been watching way too much ‘coming of age’ anime shows recently. Anyway, to cut to my main point, I believe just such an event in my life occurred the other day when I watched a beautiful adaptation of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing by Joss Whedon… while he was in the same room.
Yes indeed, my fair unicornlings. The man himself was in Dublin, for the first time ever I believe, and he brought an amazing film with him to the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival. It was a cold two hours of waiting in the snow, but my cohorts and I landed front row seats, clad in our best nerd attire and had our tiny, fangirl/fanboy retinas melted.
Much Ado About Nothing
When I had first heard about this film, I was incredibly excited. Not just because I’m a big fan of pretty much everything Joss has done as a writer and director, but also because I absolutely love this play. It’s been close to my heart ever since I studied it as a wee college student of English, Media & Culture. During my studies I was also introduced to the Kenneth Brannagh film adaptation (1993). I found this to have some questionable casting choices but as a Shakespeare adaptation, it is immensely entertaining none the less. That is, if you enjoy the sight of a topless Keanu Reeves covered in chicken grease. I did.
Much Ado About Nothing is THE classic romantic comedy. Unrequited love, scandal, lies, deception and the humor that knots the eccentrically dramatic plot together makes it a quality piece for the stage. Sure, it’s a little over the top but that’s renaissance playwrights for you, isn’t it? It really is the kind of Shakespeare play that I can imagine a theatrical director or a filmmaker having an awful lot of fun with today. So of course when Joss stepped up to the plate I was pleasantly surprised. As a writer with a talent for well timed comedy and humor as well as drama, Much Ado About Nothing seemed like a perfect project for Whedon.
The film was shot at Whedon’s house, in black and white with a VERY familiar cast. Of course, I would expect nothing less from Joss. The man knows who he works best with. That’s a point he’s proven more than once. In this case, the casting choices worked out quite well. At first, it was hard not to get rid of the ‘star factor’. The first few scenes with Clark Gregg were a little tough to digest with the voice in my head screaming “AGENT COLSON”. However, Clark Gregg being as awesome as he is, he really got his proverbial ‘acting teeth’ into Leonato.
The same can be said for an awful lot of the cast, some in particular just seemed to belong in their roles the minute they hit the screen. Sean Maher was no exception as Don John. And to think I never would have believed he had a dark side. He just ooozed villainy. Like a big vat of villain ooze (which needs to be a real product). Nathan Fillion as the ever entertaining, bumbling policeman Dogberry was also a performance to mark. Of course, his immediate entrance on screen was a little hard to focus on due to the HUGE RESOUNDING APPLAUSE and screams that filled the cinema when people laid eyes on him. But Nathan was just perfect for that role. I believe I saw some elements of Richard Castle’s goofy side, as well as some of that hilarious dead pan delivery we know him so well for. He and Tom Lenke worked magically together as a cop duo. I think they may have set the bar for Whedon to write them a spin-off short film. Or even better, a SERIES of spin-off short films (No pressure, Joss).
The only performance it took me longer than ten minutes to warm up to was Fran Kranz as Claudio. This could stem from the fact that I’ve always HATED Claudio with a fiery passion. He’s just a detestable character for modern woman such as I. Why? Observe the simplified version:
Claudio: Oooh look at me, I’m Claudio. I loved you, Hero but I think I maybe might have seen you sleep with another guy so even though I’m not 97% sure and everything I know about it comes from a bastard that I know to be an outright villain I am going to publicly humiliate you, reject you and call you a whore. Oh wait, I was wrong please take me back.
What a fucking Jerk.
However, I think Fran Kranz did the part justice in his own way towards the end. I think the still of him in the pool with a snorkel on and a cocktail in one hand sealed the deal for me. The modern approach of ‘Ex Frat Boy Idiot’ for Claudio was seemingly a fitting one.
Of course, the star factor faded and Shakespeare worked his magic with a lot of help from Joss Whedon. And the audience really got into the heart of the film, it’s plot strings and its humor. The ‘deception’ scenes for Beatrice and Benedick were choreographed REALLY well. Some great slapstick reactions from Alex Denishoff and Amy Acker, who worked awesomely as the headstrong duo. Ah, Beatrice & Benedick. Constantly knocking heads and eventually buckling under the pressure of their real emotions. This relationship is one of the reasons why I love this play, and I think Joss worked with it very well and gave it a really good modern twist with the addition of some very interesting and plot-altering footage concerning the two characters.
Overall, as a modern Shakespeare adaptation, I thought the film really was something special. The imagery, the actions and the performances really got through to what I think is an important thing to take from the play, the many social constructs of romance and how human behavior strives to cope with it’s true understanding and it consequences. I believe there’s a quote from Joss that expands on this point:
“I fixated on this notion that our ideas of romantic love are created for us by the society around us, and then escape from that is grown-up love, is marriage, is mature love, to escape the ideals of love that we’re supposed to follow.” – Joss Whedon
I can relate, Joss. I can relate. Obviously, y’know, there’s the whole ‘don’t bring your villainous bastard brother into your friends house without expecting something bad to happen’ thing, but the other thing is more important…I think.
This was an incredibly enjoyable, elegantly shot film that will make you laugh and give you all the warm and fuzzy feelings at the end. Even despite the Claudio/Hero fiasco, there’s quite a significant message on modern love. And if you don’t have the fuzzy feelings after seeing Fred & Wesley reunited onscreen as two of Shakespeare’s most entertaining characters…well you’re not much of a person, are you? But it’s okay. We’re all friends here. I won’t hold that against you. Okay, I lied. I totally will. Of course, if you’re a hardcore Whedonite, then the knock-out performances from the familiar faces you see I think will be adequate enough.
On a side note, I only realized after the Q&A for the film that I had a burning question for Joss regarding the character Beatrice. Amy Acker did a really amazing job, but I’d love to know about any more of ‘Shakespeare’s women’ he’d like to work with down the line and who he might cast for them. Seeing that he’s already got a pretty good repertoire for strong female characters, I figure he might have some exciting ideas. I also made chocolate chip cookies that I was all set to offer him. However, I got very chilly feet. The Q&A experience was a little overwhelming. I was so excited I was entirely unsettled and so I second guessed my entire existence and kept my quivering fangirl mouth shut in case I said something stupid. Oh well. It was still an awesome evening and I have no regrets.
So thank you, Joss. For bringing yet another cinematic delight into the world. Please come back and visit us again sometime.
That, I think, will be quite enough for now, unicornlings. I must go lie down and contemplate life in space and how I shall someday manufacture and sell a game changing energy drink: Villain Ooze. (For the bad guy on the go! Unleash your utmost evil!)
I shall leave you with an awesome Joss moment to brighten your day. (Prithee, watch at your peril. Contains Monsters)