Think of it as a single scoop of sorbet: Joss Whedon's
Whedon needed a change of pace for the few weeks between shooting last summer's monster hit
Whedon cut the play by about a third but kept the original language. He put all the actors in modern dress and shot in black and white with a Red digital camera in his own palatial Santa Monica house and grounds. The results are, as might be expected, good-humored and unpretentious in equal measure.
Choosing Shakespeare for his palate cleanser was a good idea for Whedon, and not just because the director had apparently organized at-home readings from the plays for years — and cast this "Much Ado" almost exclusively with actors he had worked with before in one of his TV or film productions.
Shakespeare was also a good option because it's hard to go too far wrong with this material. The man's plays are difficult to do superbly but because the language is so good and the situations so delicious, they're forgiving of engaging but not quite perfect attempts, of which this is one.
Doing Shakespeare in non-Elizabethan costumes is a venerable notion by this point in time. In fact, Shakespeare in the Park impresario Joe Papp did a hugely successful version of this play for
Visually, the transference of the play's setting to today's Santa Monica works beautifully, with ruler Don Pedro (
Still, it takes a bit of getting used to to hear Shakespeare's extravagant language coming out of the mouths of characters who look like they're just back from shopping on Montana Avenue. And because the plot is so dizzying, reading a brief synopsis of the play (Marchette Chute's "Stories From Shakespeare" is a trusty standby) before seeing the movie wouldn't hurt.
The heart of the story involves the romantic entanglements of two of Don Pedro's associates, close friends Benedick (
Benedick and Beatrice (
Shakespeare has given these two some of the play's best lines, and it is hard not to grin when Beatrice shows so little respect for Benedick's martial prowess she promises to eat all the men he kills, while the man in turn proclaims "till all graces be in one woman, one woman shall not come in my grace."
Invariably stealing the show in "Much Ado" is the comic character of Dogberry, the well-meaning but mentally challenged local constable, here cleverly played by
The spirit and ideas behind this production are so nifty one wishes it were a "Much Ado" for the ages, but that is not to be: limiting yourself in terms of time expended on the production and actors is not a recipe for complete success. Still, it feels like a blessing to have this production at all and we are fortunate it turned out as well as it did.
'Much Ado About Nothing'
MPAA rating: PG-13 for some sexuality and brief drug use
Running time: 1 hour, 47 minutes
Playing: At Landmark, West Los Angeles; ArcLight, Hollywood