SXSW FILM 2013
By Don Simpson | March 17, 2013
Director: Joss Whedon
Writers: Joss Whedon, William Shakespeare
Starring: Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Clark Gregg, Emma Bates, Reed Diamond, Nathan Fillion, Fran Kranz, Jillian Morgese, Sara Blindauer, Spencer Treat Clark, Anna Grimm, Ashley Johnson, Nick Kocher, Tom Lenk, Riki Lindhome, Sean Maher, Brian McElhaney, Paul M. Meston
Over the last seventeen-or-so years, writer-director Joss Whedon has carefully constructed a series of fictional worlds that have come to be known as the Whedonverse. With the exception of his television series Firefly, the universes of Whedon’s characters are just similar enough to our own. The stories are like alternate realities of our present reality, one in which things are just a wee bit off-kilter.
Something that has been apparent since his first television series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, is Whedon’s penchant for Shakespearean tales of love and deceit. His dialogue may be dense with pop culture references but it flows like a poetic river of wit, snark and charm. Mixing comedy and tragedy throughout his intricately strategized storylines, Whedon has proven himself to be a master screenwriter and director. With his mighty pen, Whedon has essentially revealed himself to be our modern day Shakespeare.
So it only makes sense that Whedon would eventually recreate one of The Bard’s masterworks. Whedon transports Much Ado About Nothing to what seems like present day California, but purports to be Messina, a port city in Aragon-ruled Sicily. The characters speak in Shakespeare’s dated tongue and discuss Aragonian battles that would have taken place several hundred years ago; yet they reside in a modern house, dress in modern clothes, drive modern cars and carry modern guns. Whedon opts for a black and white milieu (gorgeously shot by cinematographer Jay Hunter) to add another layer of falseness to the images. Upon first viewing, it might take a while to settle into the world of Much Ado About Nothing, but once you get in sync with the film it is a truly transcendental experience.
This oh-so-clever trope about two “types” of lovers contemplates society’s inherent desire to be nosy and gossip. Shakespeare cleverly plays with the similarity of the words “noting” and “nothing,” which in Shakespearean times were homophones. It is also worth noting that “noting” was slang for eavesdropping and gossiping, with which this story has very much ado.
Beatrice (Amy Acker) and Benedick (Alexis Denisof) are sworn enemies engaged in a “merry war,” but they secretly love each other. They have have each proudly adopted a bitter guise against love and marriage, and they attack each other with wittily barbed prose. Their opposites, Hero (Jillian Morgese) and Claudio (Fran Kranz), are sweet and innocent; they are much too timid to approach — let alone, speak to — each other to profess their unadulterated love for each other. While Benedick and Beatrice continue to pretend to detest each other, Claudio and Hero are brought together to be wed; that is until others decide to meddle in their affairs. The man of the house, Leonato (Clark Gregg), decides that it would be entertaining to fool Benedick and Beatrice into admitting their true feelings for each other; all the while, an evil-spirited houseguest, Don John (Sean Maher), attempts to tear Claudio and Hero apart in a much more menacing and deceitful manner.
Significantly different in tone and setting to Kenneth Branagh’s 1993 adaptation, Whedon’s film is just as flawless of an interpretation. It seems fitting that Whedon, a writer-director who has long had an affinity for strong-willed women, would be attracted to Beatrice’s character. This sharp-tongued female character-type is one that appears in every part of the Whedonverse — several of those characters have been played by Amy Acker. In fact, the Benedick and Beatrice scenario of two people who are too stubborn and proud to admit their love for each other has been quite prevalent in most of Whedon’s stories as well.
(Be sure to check out our SXSW 2013 video interview with Alexis Denisof, Clark Gregg and Nathan Fillion.)