“Let me be that I am and seek not to alter me.”
What do you do after making one of the most expensive, most anticipated, most successful blockbusters of all time? If you’re Joss Whedon, you get your friends together, grab a public domain classic play and shoot for a couple of weeks in your own house. The massive success of Avengers: Assemble seems so obvious now. But four years ago, it was a massive, risky swing that could have lead to an even bigger miss. What could have made the concept of super hero movies collapse under its own weight, turned into one of the genre’s biggest hits. Whedon’s next turn behind the camera, an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, couldn’t have been a bigger departure from what had just made Whedon one of Hollywood’s most successful directors.
Don Pedro (Reed Diamond) has just lead a successful military campaign, quashing an uprising lead by his own brother, Don John (Sean Maher). With his brother as prisoner in tow, Pedro arrives at the home of Leonato (Clark Gregg), where they’re all invited to stay. Including one of Pedro’s lieutenants, Claudio (Fran Kranz), who immediately falls in love with Leonato’s daughter, Hero (Jillian Morgese).
With that romance quickly under control and fully endorsed with a wedding set in just a few days’ time, attentions turn to Loanato’s niece, Beatrice (Amy Acker) and playboy, Benedick (Alexis Denisof). Pedro and Leonato, with the help of a few others, are soon doing their best to play match makers between the two. But Don John, bitter about pretty much everything, decides if he can’t be happy, no one can.
Set in modern day, the contemporary clothing, iPods and phones never stand out as odd. Even the American accents and modern cadences work amazingly well with the Shakespearean language. What does stand out, is the internal monologues being played externally.
I’m sure it’s a product of its time, and also the nature of stage plays in general. But there’s something kind of jarring, awkward and even a bit corny about these characters talking to themselves out loud, going over their plans, thoughts and motivations. Maybe it would work if they were on stage in frilly collars and floppy hats, but when delivered by a 21st century person, in 21st century clothing, with 21st century vocal inflections, it just stood out for all the worst reasons.
Although, when those monologues take up as little screen time as they do here, and when everything else around them is so charming, funny, sweet, sad and affecting, it’s easy to look past those external expressions of internal thoughts. And Much Ado About Nothing is a collection of a whole lot of charming, funny, sweet, sad and affecting moments, performed by a charming, funny, sweet, sad and affecting cast.