Much Ado About Nothing is my favorite of Shakespeare’s comedies, and honestly, I’ve seen the Kenneth Branagh-directed 1993 film…more times than I’d like to admit. Even the horror that is Keanu Reeves spewing a Shakespearean monologue can’t lessen my love for that movie, because Much Ado About Nothing has some of the funniest lines in all of Shakespeare’s plays. Imagine my delight when I found out that Joss Whedon, who can do no wrong in my eyes, adapted his own version while taking a break from filming The Avengers.
That’s right, while on a brief vacation from directing one of the biggest summer blockbusters of the past few years, Joss Whedon took some actors and a film crew to his home in Santa Monica and whipped out a really great movie based on one of Shakespeare’s funniest and most endearing plays.
Like the 1993 film, Whedon’s version retains almost all of the play’s original language, but with a sleek and sexy modern setting that is really fun. I’m sorry, Keanu, but I think I have a new favorite Much Ado movie.
Leonato, the governor of Messina, is entertaining Don Pedro and his band of loyal followers, and during the coolest drunken house party ever, a lot of drama goes down: well-meaning revelers plot to unite reluctant lovers Beatrice and Benedick, Claudio woos and then rejects Leonato’s shy daughter Hero, and Don Pedro’s brother, Don John, does his best to screw everything up, because he’s just a “plain-dealing villain” who wants to wreak some havoc, dammit.
Better in the movie:
- The Joss Whedon dream team! If you’re a fan of any of Whedon’s earlier film or television work, you’ll recognize most of the cast. Nathan Fillion as Dogberry, the ridiculous constable who manages to thwart Don John, is my favorite.
- Conrade the lady instead of Conrade the dude. In the play, Don John is assisted by his skeevy lackeys Borachio and Conrade, both men. In this version, Conrade is a woman and also Don John’s lover, and the gender swap works really well, even while still using the original lines from the play.
- Borachio is also given a refreshing little make over – in other film and theater productions, the character is kind of bawdy and crude compared to Conrade’s smooth villainy, but in this version he’s an adorable, slightly dorky kid.
- This film version opens with a short scene that makes the complicated history between Beatrice and Benedick much more obvious, and it works well to set the style and tone for the rest of the movie.
Worse in the movie:
- The first scene using the original dialogue from the play in the modern setting feels stilted, but give it a couple minutes – everything falls into place once the cast really starts interacting with all the witty banter and matchmaking shenanigans.
Just watch the trailer for the movie and try to keep from grinning like a fool, I dare you! But also be prepared to feel vaguely pissed off when you realize you’ll never attend a drunken pool party quite that fabulous.