Having written and directed The Avengers, a film that broke box office records and received universal praise from both audiences and critics, the world was Joss Whedon’s oyster last summer. He had earned himself the freedom to follow up his superhero blockbuster with whatever project he wanted. He could have spearheaded an outlandish original concept, for instance, or helmed a gigantic studio franchise (rumor has it Disney offered him Star Wars VII). Instead, however, the director did something nobody could have predicted: he opted to adapt a modern, macro-budget retelling of William Shakespeare’s comedy Much Ado About Nothing shot at his Santa Monica home in just 12 days with friends and regular collaborators.
Whedon’s home serves as Messina, where news arrives that Don Pedro (Reed Diamond) and his officers Claudio (Fran Kranz) and Benedick (Alexi Denisof) have returned from battle. The patriarch of the house Leonato (Clark Gregg) opens his doors to them, at which point Claudio immediately falls madly in love with his daughter Hero (Jillian Morgese). Meanwhile, Benedick and Hero’s cousin Beatrice (Amy Acker) – who once had a casual relationship – are reminded of their disdain for one another and engage in an insulting, sarcastic, ‘merry war’ of words.
As Claudio and Hero’s romance blossoms they vow to marry each other. However, as the wedding’s preparations are being made, Don Pedro and the men at Messina grow increasingly bored. Thus, they decide to trick Benedick and Beatrice into falling in love with one another. But while one group plan to instigate romance another plan to break it as Don Pedro’s brother John (Sean Maher) plots against the infatuated Claudio and Hero, setting in motion a scheme that will tear them apart.
Despite a modern setting permeated by iPhones and TVs, Much Ado About Nothing remains faithful to original in both story and translation. It’s not only told in Shakespearean language but Joss Whedon directs it with a flamboyance and silliness that would surely have taken place on stage of The Globe Theatre way back in 1640. Nonetheless, while the Shakespeare crowd will likely find a lot of pleasure in this adaptation, that shouldn’t repel the filmmaker’s fan base either. Similar to The Avengers, Much Ado About Nothing’s highlights come from the way the writer and director allows the ensemble to play off one another with witty, wisecracking dialogue – something even the youngest of Whedon fans will revel in.
Unshackled from the pressures of the Hollywood studio system (the film is the first feature from the Whedon-created studio Bellwether) Whedon cites Much Ado About Nothing as the film he’s most enjoyed making – and you can’t half tell. The macro-budget, DIY approach is clearly where he’s most content. There’s an aurora of serenity and flippancy in every frame, as if Whedon and his cast and crew are on cinematic vacation. The fact that it’s almost amateurish in presentation – surely, the budget can’t exceed $100,000 – only adds to the refreshing charm of Much Ado About Nothing.