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Much Ado About Nothing (Whedon)

Posted by martinteller on August 19, 2013

So, I went and saw Whedon’s version after all.  I am perhaps at a disadvantage — or biased — with Branagh’s adaptation still very fresh in my mind.  The buzz around this new rendition revolves around the fact that it was shot in 12 days at Whedon’s home.  And, of course, the very presence of Whedon — and several members of his television stable — is enough to excite fans.

There have been countless productions that put Shakespeare in a modern setting, and Whedon’s take on it does not come across as particularly novel.  It is successful in some ways… notably the use of cell phones and security cameras to convey information, and the implementation of Dogberry and the watch.  But often the attempts to deliver Shakespearean dialogue in a modern idiom, with contemporary gestures, expressions and speech patterns, comes off as forced.  It frequently felt as if the actors were putting on a deliberate affectation and at any moment would drop the act and say, “Okay, enough of that silliness, let’s talk normal now.”  This problem noticeably lessens as the film comes to a close, and assuming it was shot roughly in sequence, this may say something in favor of taking more than 12 days to shoot.

Some of the performers do quite nicely.  To make comparisons, Sean Maher presents a much more interesting Don John than Keanu Reeves could ever dream of pulling off.  And although I’m one of the few who enjoyed Michael Keaton’s turn as Dogberry, Nathan Fillion (with sidekick and “Buffy” album Tom Lenk) steals the show, transforming the character into a rather hapless cop.  And Whedon’s decision to cast comedienne/singer Riki Lindholme as Don John’s hench(wo)man Conrade is his most intriguing departure from the source material.

But Alexis Denisof (who I quite liked on “Angel”) falls completely flat as Benedick.  I never considered myself a huge Branagh fan, but it’s clear that he is infinitely more capable of biting wit and roguish charm than Denisof.  This Benedick just lies on the screen, formless and bland.  Perhaps Denisof’s reedy voice is to blame, but he’s unappealing, even when he cuts loose with some physical comedy.  Amy Acker fares better as Beatrice, especially with such a dud to bounce off of, although again it’s hard not to compare her to Emma Thompson and find her coming up short.  She’s good at handling the lines, but doesn’t have enough spark and fire to her.

And Whedon’s adaptation seems to have issues with some of the tonal shifts.  Several times the audience annoyingly laughed at moments that weren’t comedic at all.  Now, these might have been people who were too eager to show off how much they enjoy Shakespeare but it could also be because the material is rushed in a way that left folks confused about what they were watching.

Whedon’s take certainly isn’t all bad, and on the whole probably gets more right than wrong.  The movie does improve as it goes on.  And the black and white cinematography is nicely done throughout, with some fine examples of clever framing.  But the unevenness, and Denisof’s lackluster performance, make it an unsatisfying whole.  Whedon should probably stick to writing his own material.  Rating: Fair (67)


6 Responses to “Much Ado About Nothing (Whedon)”

  1. Nancy said

    Could not agree more about benedick! He sucked. My problem as always is the way people turn on hero. This material seems mean to, no matter how charmingly the leads perform.

    • The whole Hero portion of the story is troublesome, although one should try to accept it as a product of its time. I think Whedon actually does make the characters slightly more sympathetic, but there’s not a whole lot you can do without drastically altering the plot points. And Hero herself is such a thinly-written character.

  2. Greg said

    I appreciated the review, and while I thought Denisof was a bit better than you give him credit for being, I find your points insightful, as always. I think there was a certain chemistry among these actors that other productions might miss simply because so many of them have worked with each other before. Indeed, I think the fact that Branaugh and Emma Thompson were married when they made his version gave them an extra verve that helped ignite that production. As for the ingenues, well, Shakespeare never wrote them particularly well to start with. Sorry Wil, but even you weren’t perfect! Thanks for the review!

    • Thanks for the kind words, Greg! Yes, the actors play well off each other… except, surprisingly, Acker and Denisof! I don’t expect it to compare to the chemistry of Branagh/Thompson, but there was really not much going on there, at least not in my eyes.

  3. Anonymous said

    Driving home, remembering the information and comments shared at the discussion, I developed the impression that I had seen something very like a home movie taken at a family or class reunion, more interesting to watch the more the viewer was familiar with the people seen in it, rather boring if all were unknown (as they were to me.)

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