On the surface, you wouldn’t match the quirky, Joss Whedon – producer, writer, director of supernatural/fantasy/sci-fi TV series like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, “Firefly” and the movie “The Avengers” with Shakespeare, but the latest iteration of the bard’s “As You Like It” instantly proves any naysayers wrong.
Whedon has gathered his familiar troupe of merry players, including Alexis Denisof, Amy Acker, Clark Gregg, Reed Diamond and Nathan Fillion, an ensemble so strong it’s difficult to single out any one player. (Though, perhaps this may be the film that finally gives Alexis Denisof the kind of recognition he deserves.) Legend has it that the group frequently gathers at Whedon’s home on weekends to read Shakespeare, and the results offer an organic and melodious rhythm that flows from beginning to end.
Set in modern times and shot in black and white, (at Whedon’s home) Whedon truly succeeds in giving frequent Shakespeare director, Kenneth Branagh a run for his money.
Although the film offers a fresh new take on the play, the story and text remain the same:
Leonato (Clark Gregg), the governor of Messina, is visited by his friend Don Pedro (Reed Diamond) who is returning from a victorious campaign against his rebellious brother Don John (Sean Maher). Accompanying Don Pedro are two of his officers: Benedick (Alexis Denisof) and Claudio (Fran Kranz). While in Messina, Claudio falls for Leonato’s daughter Hero (Jillian Morgese), while Benedick verbally spars with Beatrice (Amy Acker), the governor’s niece. The budding love between Claudio and Hero prompts Don Pedro to arrange with Leonato for a marriage.
Still with me?
In the days leading up to the ceremony, Don Pedro, with the help of Leonato, Claudio and Hero, attempts to sport with Benedick and Beatrice in an effort to trick the two into falling in love. Meanwhile, the villainous Don John, with the help of his allies: Conrade (Riki Lindhome) and Borachio (Spencer Treat Clark), plots against the happy couple, using his own form of trickery to try to destroy the marriage before it begins.
A series of comic and tragic events continue to keep the two couples from truly finding happiness, but then again perhaps love may prevail…
“Much Ado About Nothing” won’t receive wide distribution, (in Sacramento, the film is playing at the Tower Theatre) so Whedon’s Fan Boys probably won’t get a chance to catch it. More’s the pity, it’s one of the best films of the year.
The Bottom Line: Although the film will look just fine on DVD and pay cable, do yourself a favor and catch it in the theatre.
Rating PG13, 110 minutes