Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Much Ado About Nothing (2013)

"...a Giddy Thing."
The Party @ Joss' House

Joss Whedon is a fine writer and a great director.  His output in movies is slim (in TV, of course, it's prodigious)—Serenity, Dr. Horrible's Sing-along Blog, and Marvel's The Avengers, meaning he's got range and he's no slouch—but there's a high-standard operating there whether budget is low or high, and there's an artistic determination to make "pop" that matters.  The story is that for a long time he's been staging readings of Shakespeare plays at his house with friends and acquaintances, just because he loves Shakespeare. That must have been the impetus to make this movie—Much Ado About Nothing—filmed in 14 days during the long arduous post-production of The Avengers.* 

Must have seemed like a lark during so much Hulking pixilation.
The story's virtually unaltered from the text. It's just transformed to modern day at Joss' house, where a weekend long party is being thrown for...not so much returning soldiers, but captains of industry—hosted by Leonato (Clark Gregg) and daughter Hero (Jillian Morgese) and cousin Beatrice (Amy Acker). The chief guests are Don Pedro (Reed Diamond), Claudio (Fran Kranz), the Don's nefarious brother John (Sean Maher), and Benedick (Alexis Denisof). Now, this is one of Shakespeare's comedies, so pay attention: Benedick and Beatrice have history, which didn't go well and they're still equally bitter about it, protesting too much that they're both above it all. Claudio becomes entranced with Hero, and is wooed on his behalf by Don Pedro. Things get complicated with two household conspiracies: Don John conspires to way-lay the lightning-fast nuptials of Hero and Claudio, and seemingly the entire party  has it in to throw the two grousers, Benedick and Beatrice, together.  Both plans work all too well, splintering one and making the other a matter of necessity.  In the meantime, the local constabulary, led by Dogberry (Nathan Fillion) are working overtime, trying to discover what all the skulking and whispering is about. 
The play may be the thing, but it is in Whedon's presentation that it shines. It is something of a revelation to see how well the early scenes play when everybody is a little bit liquored up, and the performances are surprisingly smooth, belying the pigeon-holing that these mostly television actors have had to suffer, when they can do deftly handle the meatier material—Acker, particularly, is amazingly versatile, and is the clear stand-out in the performances—you could actually believe she thinks in blank-verse—and is nearly note-perfect making the words her own. And Fillion plays his relatively small part in a cagily puffed-up manner the way you'd think William Shatner would (seriously or no) in order to squeeze every drop of comedy out of it. In fact, everybody's good, as there's only a couple minor roles that seem a little dodgy, but not for want of trying. Whedon is very adept at throwing in puckishly physical comedy into the background at a moment's notice to make the play three-dimensional, and sometimes laugh-out-loud hilarious.
Interestingly, if Whedon made this as a detox from The Avengers, it had the same effect here; after suffering through so many over-blown-up and bloated blockbusters, it was a delight to see this quick, brisk little film, with few pretensions and very high gains.  It's really something, well worth seeing, and one looks forward to another party at Joss' house.

* Danny Boyle took the opportunity of down-time planning the British Olympics to make Trance.  A few years ago, Robert Zemeckis took the delay-time for Tom Hanks to lose weight for Cast Away to make What Lies Beneath, and Barry Levinson took advantage of down time on Sphere to make Wag the Dog

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