So you have more or less all your TV projects cancelled at some point or another, you work on different films where your vision isn’t fully realised* and eventually you make the third highest grossing film of all time**. Now science fiction provocateur and all round nerd god Joss Whedon, has hit the heights of Hollywood power with Marvel geek fest ‘Avengers Assemble’ how does one follow up this mighty and well deserved success… well you get a load of your pals together to film an adaption of William Shakespeare’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ round your house when you’re on holiday, apparently so.
Returning from success in battle, Prince Don Pedro (Reed Diamond – Dollhouse), with his loyal soldiers Benedick (Alexis Denisof – Angel) and Claudio (Fran Kranz – Cabin in the Woods) by his side, seek shelter with nobleman Leonato (Clark Gregg – Avengers Assemble) and his family. Benedick, the egotistical gentry immediately heads into another battle, of words, with Leonatos’ niece Beatrice (Amy Acker – Angel) – hinting at a past that no one is mindful of. Claudio, immediately rekindling his love for Leonatos daughter Hero (newcomer Jillian Morgese), proposes and the wedding day is set. In order to amuse themselves throughout the preparations – Don Pedro, Leonato and Claudio set themselves a challenge – to make Benedick & Beatrice fall in love. Behind the scenes, Don Pedro’s bastard brother Don John (Sean Maher – Firefly) is looking to cause trouble for all in attendance. Will Beatrice and Benedick get together? Will Claudio and Hero get hitched without a hitch? Can, against all odds including himself, Inspector Dogberry (Nathan Fillion – Firefly) stop the disreputable Don John? ***
Before watching this movie I must admit that I had trepidation on how Whedon could handle such a low key endeavour without his usual wit and pop culture**** littered dialogue to fall back on. It would transpire that I had no need to worry as Whedon handles the play expertly with the respect it’s due and the main reason for this success is – casting. Denisof & Acker***** rekindle the chemistry displayed previously in Whedon’s ‘Angel’ and it is through this intelligent casting that the film rests on and ultimately succeeds. The whole ensemble bring their A game****** and look like they are having a ball doing so. Everyone is cast to their strengths whilst also displaying a side of their work which we have not seen before hand. Maher is positively treacherous as Don John, Diamond displays some fun and playfulness not seen in previous roles and Fillion shows that he can still be hilarious whilst performing 19th century prose. It is evident throughout that the cast are having a ball in this picture and thankfully this feeling is contagious to the viewer.
Whedon has picked the material intelligently as the characters fit nicely into the archetype characters of previous accomplishments. Especially Beatrice, who would not be out of place in Dollhouse or Buffy the Vampire Slayer. One could argue that the characters in ‘Much Ado’ fall into the categories in the Whedon co-scripted film ‘The Cabin in the Woods’, the Virgin (Morgese), the Jock (Denisof), the Fool (Fillion), the Scholar (Beatrice) and the Whore (Don John)*******. It is a testament to the source material and to Whedon’s tight and reserved direction that the performances of the cast really shine through; making what could have been a visually bland snooze fest into a heart-warming and frequently hilarious film.
It seems that what got this film attention (how it was filmed) seems to be what has made this truly special. This is a picture of love from its Director and the fact that it was done independently meant that no compromises needed to be made. Don’t be put off, yes its Shakespeare but it’s a hoot. Quite possibly this is Whedon’s greatest triumph and it now displays that he is not just the snappy dialogue guy but a serious Director that can handle all types of material.
I genuinely can’t wait to see this picture again.
**And it was good too!
***A lot happens, a slight nightmare trying to explain the plot of this.
****It is interesting that he is now such a high profile pop culture icon now.
*****These two need to be in more things!
*******Admittedly I may be reaching a bit far with this one.