Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Steve Carell Redefined His Career By Surprising Everyone in 'Foxcatcher' Steve Carell Redefined His Career By Surprising Everyone in 'Foxcatcher' Watch: Ellar Coltrane on the 'Brutal' Experience of Watching 'Boyhood' After Living It Watch: Ellar Coltrane on the 'Brutal' Experience of Watching 'Boyhood' After Living It Mortem Tyldum Explains Why Alan Turing Was the Right Subject For His First English-Language Film Mortem Tyldum Explains Why Alan Turing Was the Right Subject For His First English-Language Film Why Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ is a Great, Unexpected Awards Season Frontrunner Why Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ is a Great, Unexpected Awards Season Frontrunner Watch: Patricia Arquette on Stripping Away Ego to Get to the Heart of 'Boyhood' 
Watch: Patricia Arquette on Stripping Away Ego to Get to the Heart of 'Boyhood' 'Whiplash' Breakout Miles Teller Has Officially Arrived 'Whiplash' Breakout Miles Teller Has Officially Arrived Michael Keaton Dug Deep to Deliver the Best Performance of His Career in 'Birdman' Michael Keaton Dug Deep to Deliver the Best Performance of His Career in 'Birdman' Mark Ruffalo Explains Why Dave Schultz Was One of the Most Complex Characters He's Ever Played Mark Ruffalo Explains Why Dave Schultz Was One of the Most Complex Characters He's Ever Played Keira Knightley on 'The Imitation Game' and Why Awards Matter Keira Knightley on 'The Imitation Game' and Why Awards Matter Katherine Waterston On the Good and Bad of Working With Paul Thomas Anderson Katherine Waterston On the Good and Bad of Working With Paul Thomas Anderson Emma Stone Proved She Can Do It All in 2014 Emma Stone Proved She Can Do It All in 2014 Jon Stewart is Off to a Strong Start with Directorial Debut 'Rosewater' Jon Stewart is Off to a Strong Start with Directorial Debut 'Rosewater' Awards Spotlight: Don't Be Surprised When J.K. Simmons Takes Home Oscar Awards Spotlight: Don't Be Surprised When J.K. Simmons Takes Home Oscar Jessica Chastain Proved She's a Total Chameleon in 2014 Jessica Chastain Proved She's a Total Chameleon in 2014 Laura Poitras on 'CITIZENFOUR,' The Most Dangerous Work She's Ever Done Laura Poitras on 'CITIZENFOUR,' The Most Dangerous Work She's Ever Done Jake Gyllenhaal On Doing Very Bad Things in 'Nightcrawler' Jake Gyllenhaal On Doing Very Bad Things in 'Nightcrawler' Channing Tatum Explains Why It Took Him Eight Years to Have the ‘Balls’ for ‘Foxcatcher’ Channing Tatum Explains Why It Took Him Eight Years to Have the ‘Balls’ for ‘Foxcatcher’ Ethan Hawke Didn't Know That Richard Linklater Would Bring 'Boyhood' Home So Well Ethan Hawke Didn't Know That Richard Linklater Would Bring 'Boyhood' Home So Well Jack O'Connell Explains What It’s Like to Work For Angelina Jolie Jack O'Connell Explains What It’s Like to Work For Angelina Jolie 'Red Army' Director Gabe Polsky Reveals the Story of Soviet Hockey 'Red Army' Director Gabe Polsky Reveals the Story of Soviet Hockey How Felicity Jones is Getting Noticed This Awards Season How Felicity Jones is Getting Noticed This Awards Season Edward Norton Goes Full-Blown For Alejandro González Iñárritu in 'Birdman' Edward Norton Goes Full-Blown For Alejandro González Iñárritu in 'Birdman' How Eddie Redmayne Transformed His Body and Mind to Become Stephen Hawking How Eddie Redmayne Transformed His Body and Mind to Become Stephen Hawking Oscar Isaac Explains How 'A Most Violent Year' Fits With His Other Roles Oscar Isaac Explains How 'A Most Violent Year' Fits With His Other Roles Timothy Spall Almost Went Mad to Play 'Mr. Turner' For Mike Leigh Timothy Spall Almost Went Mad to Play 'Mr. Turner' For Mike Leigh 'Gone Girl' Composer Atticus Ross: How to Write a Score Without Seeing the Film 'Gone Girl' Composer Atticus Ross: How to Write a Score Without Seeing the Film How to Play James Brown, By Chadwick Boseman: Study the Man, Listen to Drake How to Play James Brown, By Chadwick Boseman: Study the Man, Listen to Drake Chris Rock on Why Making 'Top Five' Was a No-Brainer Chris Rock on Why Making 'Top Five' Was a No-Brainer Steve James and Chaz Ebert Tackled 'Life Itself' Steve James and Chaz Ebert Tackled 'Life Itself' Bennett Miller Explains Why He Had to Make 'Foxcatcher' Bennett Miller Explains Why He Had to Make 'Foxcatcher' How Do You Roll Six Movies Into One? 'Wild Tales' Director Damian Szifron Explains How Do You Roll Six Movies Into One? 'Wild Tales' Director Damian Szifron Explains How Rosario Dawson Stole the Show From Chris Rock in 'Top Five' How Rosario Dawson Stole the Show From Chris Rock in 'Top Five' Alan Hicks: From Drummer-Surfer to Oscar-Shortlist Filmmaker Alan Hicks: From Drummer-Surfer to Oscar-Shortlist Filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu: 'Birdman' Could Have Been 'so wrong' Alejandro González Iñárritu: 'Birdman' Could Have Been 'so wrong' Amir Bar-Lev Likes to Make People a Little Uncomfortable Amir Bar-Lev Likes to Make People a Little Uncomfortable

Toronto Review: Joss Whedon Turns Shakespeare Into an Airy Comedy With Lightweight 'Much Ado About Nothing'

Photo of Eric Kohn By Eric Kohn | Indiewire September 9, 2012 at 6:11PM

There's a certain irony to Joss Whedon's adaptation of "Much Ado About Nothing": While the script culls a beloved literary achievement more than 400 years old, it has relatively uncomplicated aims.
13
Much Ado About Nothing, Joss Whedon

There's a certain irony to Joss Whedon's adaptation of "Much Ado About Nothing": While the script culls a beloved literary achievement more than 400 years old, it has relatively uncomplicated aims. Made in the immediate aftermath of Whedon's massive production of "The Avengers" and shot over the course of a two-week period at the cult director's Santa Monica home, "Much Ado About Nothing" has the scrappy feel of a high school play populated by professionals looking to take the pressure off. Call it a Shakespearean catharsis or just call it a lark -- either way, the movie represents Whedon's least essential work, regardless of the material's inherent comedic inspiration.   

Appropriately, the story of "Much Ado About Nothing" is contained enough to fit Whedon's low aims. Setting the action in a posh suburban neighborhood, the director's take remains faithful to the exploits of Benedick (Alexis Denisof) and Beatrice (Amy Acker), acquaintances unwilling to admit their mutual attraction. Meanwhile, Claudio (Fran Kranz) and Hero (Jillian Morgese) initially plan to get married until the scheming Don John (Sean Maher) lies about Hero's infidelity and ruins the wedding. The situation is investigated by the constable Dogberry (Nathan Fillion). Hero's father Leonato (Clark Gregg) agrees to fake Hero's death as a means of convincing Claudio to fall in love with her again.

While the material is fairly consistent with the source, the contemporary setting means that all these characters deliver their Elizabethan dialogue in suits and other modern day ware, while carrying cell phones, driving cars and otherwise going out their lives under the signs of modernity. Shakespeare's plays have been explored through this process so often that the approach is essentially a subgenre unto itself, but in "Much Ado About Nothing," the technique feels less like calculation than laziness.

The actors, many of whom repeatedly surface in Whedon's oeuvre, leer and smirk at each other while delivering their lines as though the entire production constituted an inside joke. While the black-and-white cinematography underlines the disconnect between setting and plot, the movie is otherwise unremarkably staged through production values that make Whedon's web series "Dr. Horrible's Sing-a-Long Blog" look like a blockbuster.

Of course, to a large degree because the actors realize the potential of the material, "Much Ado About Nothing" has plenty of funny moments, many of which are slapstick. The attempts made by the klutzy Benedict to impress Beatrice with a series of manly poses are matched by a similar show of bravado by Fillion as his character attempts to maintain the air of a slick detective. At the movie's world premiere, thousands of hardcore Whedon fans erupted into loud guffaws at each of these small moments, giving too much credit to the throwaway gags that exclusively define the movie's negligible appeal.

Other plot threads are decidedly less effective. The plight of Hero and meek Claudio has been rendered fairly bland, a trait that apparently runs in Hero's family: Her affluent father Leonato is unsophisticatedly brought to life by Gregg in a performance that borders on self-parody. Nevertheless, by the time the movie arrives at its climactic party scene, "Much Ado About Nothing" has unapologetically made clear that nobody involved wants more from the material than to play around with it.

That could make the movie into a useless exercise if it didn't bear Whedon's stamp. One of the few mainstream genre directors capably of squeezing humanity into stories that frequently rely on special effects, Whedon admirably pays tribute to the traditions of popular entertainment that precede him. However, for its duration, "Much Ado About Nothing" feels less like Whedon doing Shakespeare than Shakespeare doing Whedon.

Criticwire grade: C+

HOW WILL IT PLAY? Whedon's fans will bring the movie some level of cult potential, but its theatrical prospects are extremely limited. An alternative grassroots release seems most likely.

This article is related to: Reviews, Toronto International Film Festival, Joss Whedon, Much Ado About Nothing






Check out Indiewire on LockerDome on LockerDome



Awards Season Spotlight

Contender Conversations

Indiewire celebrates the best and brightest from Independent film, Hollywood, and foreign cinema.

More