Much Ado About Nothing
Director Joss Whedon is something of a cult hero. He created "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," which went on to become a ground-breaking TV series; he made cult shows out of two unsuccessful series ("Firefly" and "Dollhouse"); and he gave us the best superhero movie in recent memory with "The Avengers."
Now, instead of taking a much needed break, he's gathered together his stalwart faves and decided to shoot his own version of Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing" in his home, in black and white, in 12 days. The result is a sometimes charming, sometimes inventive, but an oftentimes head-scratching little comedy that will appeal, sadly, only to Whedonites and the Shakespeare faithful. Other than that, I'm not sure who the audience will be for this feature.
The story tells the tale of two sets of lovers -- one that knows they are in love, and the other that needs to be forced into knowing they are in love -- and how over one weekend they are all transformed and find their happiness. It's fairly straightforward stuff, but the machinations of the supporting characters can be confusing and the fact that it was all shot in Whedon's house (even though there are multiple locations) can become cumbersome. "Let's go to the church" becomes "Let's go to the backyard" or "Isn't that a country club in the background?"
That said, the actors are fairly well cast, with Amy Acker ("Angel") as Beatrice being the film's highlight. Alexis Denisof ("Buffy") is good here, but as Benedick it seems that hunky Nathan Fillion (who plays cop "Dogberry") might have been a better choice. Smaller characters like Don John (Sean Maher) and Verges (the hilarious Tom Lenk) are the most interesting, and newcomer Jillian Morgese as Hero and Frank Kranz ("Dollhouse") as her betrothed Claudio are the film's real finds.
The production design is a bit befuddling, as we aren't sure if they want us to feel like this is Italy (where the play is set) or Southern California, which it clearly is. Even a photo in one of the rooms is of Whedon himself, so it feels like there really wasn't much design, but simply "let's make a movie in my house this weekend!" There are moments where there is a funeral, a wedding and a party complete with trapeze artists and it looks great, but it doesn't go much beyond "Let's use what we have."
Whedon also does his best with his actors and the location he has available to him. Camera angles are a bit wonky here and there, but he makes it seem "richer" than the million dollar budget afforded them. For that and a number of other reasons, I applaud the effort. He basically made a fun home movie with friends and now we all get to see it. Whether that's worth spending $15 to see in the theater, I'm not sure.
"Much Ado" wasn't really begging for an update, but for fans of Whedon it's a must see to support a creative genius they love. But for a general audience this is probably not the summer movie for you.