In the first season of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," in an episode called "Never Kill a Boy on the First Date," Buffy—a 5-foot-nothing cheerleader/superhero tasked with killing the world's scourge of vampires without chipping her nail polish—skips out of her school library to fight a horde of martial arts proficient monsters. Before she exits she proclaims, "If the apocalypse comes...beep me." This is director, composer and writer Joss Whedon at his best—ironic, campy and inherently hilarious.
Whedon takes the same forward approach to the physical comedy of Shakespeare's innuendo-oozing romantic comedy, Much Ado About Nothing. Keeping the original language—minus about an hour of the play—and setting the cast in a modern business mogul's compound (actually filmed in Whedon's own Santa Barbra home), Whedon brings his signature light touch to the classic play. The result is a laughter-filled, liquor-soaked flick—a heck of a lot sexier and more intimate than Kenneth Branagh's button-down 1993 Victorian rendition.
Whedon is notorious for having brunch readings of Shakespeare plays with his friends, who happen to be some of the most talented and underrated actors in the Hollywood. How convenient. The cast is a Rolodex of Whedon's former projects, actors as far back as Alexis Denisof ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer"), who delivers a cartoonish, but charming Benedict, to more recent work, the Avengers' Clark Gregg, who joins the cast as the flip-flopping father of the bride-to-be, Leonato. For tried-and-true Whedonites, the film feels like a robust family reunion.
And man, do these guys know how to throw a party! The plot is greased with twists and ploys that only work in the modern setting because all of the participants appear to be sloshed for the entirety of the escapades. Amy Acker may as well have a glass of chardonnay fused to her hand as she delivers a pitch-perfect performance of the sharp-tonged Beatrice. Kooky tests of honor, sexual switcheroos and a complete lack of privacy in the mansion lead to a ruined wedding and a fake funeral, both of which would be a bit obtuse save for the abundance of alcohol and the quality of performance.
Filmed in black and white with hand-held cameras, Much Ado has the ambiance of a casual home movie more than a Hollywood feature. Nathan Fillion ("Castle," "Firefly") makes a hysterical watchman, Dogberry, in combination with short-stack sidekick Tom Lenk ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer"). Their bad-cop, worse-cop egotism makes for some of the film's biggest laughs.
Much Ado is funny in all of the obvious Shakespearean ways—people fall down, identities are confused, banter is exchanged—but the subtleties that Whedon brings are even funnier. Like when the malevolent and miserable Don John (played by Sean Maher of "Firefly," who trumps Keanu Reeves' throaty, airhead 1993 performance) snatches a cupcake from a catering table after ruining and presumably killing the bride in an impromptu wedding, or when the "ass" Dogberry, in a fit of rage tries to put on his sidekick's tiny coat, or when Benedict wrestles the love-struck Claudio like a teasing older brother. Whedon's knack for hammering the obvious and leaving golden laugh-out-loud tidbits for the finding solidifies his comedic genius. And, makes me really excited to see The Avengers 2.
Much Ado About Nothing
dir. Joss Whedon
Pilot Butte 6