When I was young and wild, I vaguely knew about William Shakespeare. To me, he was just a famous British playwright who wrote several classic tragedies including “Hamlet”, and I only read the Korean translation version of “Hamlet” and his other three notable tragedies including that damn Scottish play. Although I gradually came to know a little about his many other works later, I have so far read only one Shakespeare play in English (it was “Twelfth Night”, by the way), and that has been one of my intellectual shames for many years.
Therefore, I may not be a model audience for Joss Weadon’s “Much Ado About Nothing”, but I can tell you at least that it is an interesting adaptation of Shakespeare’s famous comedy in terms of style and mood. Bouncing around its modest modern background along with its cast members, the movie is as witty and funny as you can expect from a Shakespeare comedy, and I often smiled during my viewing while enjoying a good number of humorous moments generated from its main characters.
While the background is changed from Tuscany around the 16th century to a modern suburban area of California, Weadon’s adapted screenplay is mostly faithful to Shakespeare’s play, and we are served with the amusing juxtaposition of old and new things. In contrast to their archaic dialogues, the characters in the movie look contemporary in their modern background, and this anachronistic aspect is particularly exemplified well by the opening title sequence. When Don Pedro (Reed Diamond), Prince of Aragon, is arriving in Messina after his victorious battle, he and his companions are riding on cars instead of horses, and Leonato (Clark Gregg), the governor of Messina, receives that news as he cheerfully talks with others in his big suburban mansion.
When Beatrice (Amy Acker), Leonato’s niece, hears that Benedick (Alexis Denisof), one of Don Pedro’s companions, also comes to the mansion, she instantly begins to talk about how much she despises Benedick. As soon as they come across each other not long after Don Pedro’s arrival, she and Benedick exchange some barbed words with each other, but it is quite apparent to us that they are actually attracted to each other while being too proud and stubborn to admit that to themselves. After all, how can they possibly keep being so vehemently obsessed with each other, if they really dislike each other as much as they say in front of others?
Meanwhile, Claudio (Fran Kranz), a young man who is another companion of Don Pedro and is also Benedick’s close friend, has hopelessly been in love, and his object of affection is none other than Hero (Jillian Morgese), Leonato’s only daughter. When he comes to learn of Claudio’s lovesick status, Don Pedro decides to give some help to Claudio, and everything seems to go smoothly as Don Pedro woos Hero on the behalf of Claudio during an evening masquerade.
However, there comes a small vicious scheme from Don John (Sean Maher), an illegitimate brother of Don Pedro. As your average grouchy villain, he wants to ruin Claudio and Hero’s happiness, and his two followers are willing to assist his scheme. All they have to do is setting up a right moment to ignite Claudio’s mistrust on Hero’s innocence (and virginity), and Don Jon is surely going to enjoy its dark consequence with gusto.
Meanwhile, there is another intrigue which is far less harmful in comparison. After succeeding in matching Claudio with Hero, Don Pedro thinks of another matchmaking to do, and he and a few other characters including Claudio and Leonato gladly join him for, well, extra entertainment before Claudio and Hero’s wedding. Knowing well what has been going on between Benedick and Beatrice, they give a little push to Benedick and Beatrice respectively via little white lies, and, what do you know, Benedick and Beatrice cannot be possibly happier in front of their possibility of love.
Of course, everything becomes more serious than before as Don John’s evil plan results in a big dramatic moment of anger and heartbreak, but the movie continues to glide along its plot. Although the misogynous aspect of Shakespeare’s play still leaves some sour taste, this thankfully remains to be a minor flaw in the film, and we gladly go along with the buoyant mood of the movie as it comes to arrive at the joyous ending filled with music and, yes, love.
As many of you know, Weadon made this film as a sort of vacation from the post-production period of “The Avengers” (2012). After assembling a small number of performers, he shot the movie at his house over 12 days, and the result surely shows that he and his performers had a lot of fun together during that short shooting period. While Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof click together well with each other during their comic scenes, the other performers around them are also fine in their respective roles, and the special mention must go to Nathan Fillion, who absolutely steals the show as Dogberry, a hilariously ineffectual policeman who somehow comes to play a crucial role during the last act.
Sandwiched between “The Avengers” and its 2015 sequel, “Much Ado About Nothing” looks trivial on the surface, but this is a more enjoyable work which demonstrates more of Weadon’s good handling of dialogues and performances. While I still prefer the exuberance of the 1993 film version directed by Kenneth Branagh, this modest version also has its own charm, and I was entertained enough by its mood, style, and performance. In short, this is a little pleasant experience to cherish, and we can say that Weadon had a productive vacation on the whole.