Did you know that after he filmed Avengers, Joss Whedon made a modern adaptation of a Shakespeare play? It’s not surprising when you look into Joss’s personal history with Shakespeare. The cast of Buffy would often talk about how during the summer, they would hang out at Joss’s house and read Shakespeare plays. (Incidentally, I would gladly eat a heart in the marketplace to be a fly in the wall for those summers.)
This adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing has a wonderful cast. Whedon alumni actors include: Clark Gregg and Ashley Johnson from Avengers (Johnson was the cute blonde waitress that Captain America saved), Nathan Filion and Sean Maher from Firefly, Reed Diamon and Fran Kranz from Dollhouse, Tom Lenk from Buffy, and Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof from Angel. Angel fans, grab your tissues because this will be the only chance to see Fred Burkle and Wesley Wyndham-Pryce get the happy ending they deserve.
There are many interesting things in this adaptation, aside from the fact that it’s set in the modern era. First of all, the film was shot in black and white, giving it the feel of an Old Hollywood movie. The beginning of the film showes that Benedick and Beatrice were involved, which would explain their coarse behavior towards each other. When Hero and Claudio meet, it’s implied that they knew each other before Claudio went off to war, hence why they rush to get married so quickly.
Speaking of the war, it’s never stated outright what kind of war Benedick and Claudio came from, but it’s implied that it’s a mafia war, as Don John and his cohort are seen being led to Leonato’s house in zip-tie handcuffs. The mafia war implication serves as a reason for why Hero allegedly sleeping with someone else before her wedding was such a big scandal. She was accused of sleeping with the enemy!
The film highlights the main story arc between Claudio and Hero, putting their relationship to the test. When Hero fakes her death, she is seen watching Claudio’s remorse at her funeral from a distance. In spite of the fact that Don John tried to ruin Hero’s reputation and relationship, Claudio was ready to atone for his idiocy. (They even have a joke that involves a black woman glaring at Claudio while he says “I’ll hold my mind, were she an Ethiope.”)
In spite of how people may perceive the play, this is actually the best adaptation I’ve seen. Putting my fangirl bias towards all things Whedon aside, there’s this tendency for people to think that Much Ado is essentially a romantic comedy. It isn’t. The implication that Benedick and Beatrice were involved, but never married is there in the text. When Don Pedro asks Beatrice about Benedick, she says:
Indeed, my lord, he lent it me awhile; and I gave
him use for it, a double heart for his single one:
marry, once before he won it of me with false dice,
therefore your grace may well say I have lost it.
It also serves as the reason why she can’t marry Don Pedro. It’s a back-in-the-day thing, but since Benedick and Beatrice were involved, he had to marry her in order to make their relationship legit. It’s not a “boy meets girl” romantic comedy. It’s about two relationships that fell apart and need to be set right. Of course, since this is a modern adaptation, it’s also clear that Beatrice and Benedick still have feelings for each other.
Did I mention, by the way, that I love Amy Acker in this movie? She is a wonderful Beatrice and the chemistry she has with Alexis Denisof sizzles. They both have scenes that involve slapstick, the characters hiding or jumping around to eavesdrop on their friends’ conversations. It’s hilarious to watch. They may not have the strength that Kenneth Brannaugh and Emma Thompson put into their performances in the 1993 film adaptation of this play, but you can argue that this adaptation feels more intimate.
Even though not all the actors in this film have the nuance and gravity of classically trained Shakespeare actors (looking at you BriTanicK), the major actors all gave memorable performances. My favorite is Nathan Fillion’s version of Dogberry, who comes off like Richard Castle meets CSI Miami. He says all his lines with perfect seriousness, which makes scenes like this all the more hilarious:
Marry, sir, they have committed false report;
moreover, they have spoken untruths; secondarily,
they are slanders; sixth and lastly, they have
belied a lady; thirdly, they have verified unjust
things; and, to conclude, they are lying knaves.
Overall, I highly recommend Shakespeare fans and Joss Whedon fans to watch this film. I also recommend to listen to the commentaries on the DVD. There’s with just Joss Whedon, who explains how they filmed the whole thing at his house. He is amazing with commentaries. Then there’s the cast commentary which basically has you laughing from start to finish.
Now, can we have an adaptation of another Shakespeare play with the cast from Buffy? Like say, James Marsters and Sarah Michelle Gellar in A Midsummer Night’s Dream?