You don’t have to be a Shakespeare buff to enjoy Joss Whedon’s modern adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing. Filmed at Whedon’s house in only 12 days with a cast of his friends from various past projects, the movie stays true to the playwright’s comedy, but places his prose in a more relatable setting. Unlike another Shakespeare adaptation that keeps the original language but uses a modern setting, Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet, Whedon’s black-and-white interpretation is more casual and subtle.
Although the dialogue may be a bit hard to follow for those who aren’t familiar with the play, the actors deliver their lines in such a way that makes their intent clear. You can understand when they are teasing, when they are fighting, and when they are being sarcastic (and there is a lot of sarcasm). They aren’t giving dramatic performances on a stage; they are having normal conversations with each other that just happen to be spoken in flowery language.
As it turns out, many of today’s romantic comedy tropes are found in the 400-year-old text. Full-of-himself playboy Benedick (Alexis Denisof) and independent, quick-witted Beatrice (Amy Acker) despise each other and are constantly bickering. Even if you haven’t read the play, I think you can guess what happens between them. The plot also includes a called-off wedding between Beatrice’s cousin Hero (Jillian Morgese) and Claudio (Fran Kranz). Of course, there are elements of the story that wouldn’t make sense in contemporary society, like Hero faking her death due to some big blow-up that arose because she might not be a virgin. But while there isn’t always a happy ending in Shakespeare, for this rom-com, it’s basically a given.
Much of the cast was already quite familiar with Shakespeare, because Whedon has hosted many readings of his plays over the years (one of which inspired this version of Much Ado). It’s as though the audience was invited to one of Whedon’s get-togethers… only there are also trapeze artists there for some reason. For Whedon fanatics, it’s fun to see who the director rounded up to star in the film. (Look, it’s Wesley! And Mal! And Agent Coulson!) Denisof and Acker pull off some physical comedy as they eavesdrop on conversations about each other, and Nathan Fillion is great in a small part as police officer Dogberry. It’s obvious that the cast, as well as Whedon, have a sincere appreciation for Shakespeare’s original work, but also had a fun time giving it their own twist.