IFFBoston 11 Review: Much Ado About Nothing
Starring: Alexis Denisof, Amy Acker, Clark Gregg, and introducing Jillian Moregese
Plot: During wedding preparations, two rivals, Benedick and Beatrice, discover their true feelings for each other.
I hated Shakespeare in high school. They forced me to read Romeo and Juliet and MacBeth. I just couldn’t decipher the ye olde English that the Bard used. I’m sure it made sense back in the day, but it might as well be another language at this point. This is why these modern “retellings” are so genius. They add a level of context, especially the flow and emphasis of the dialog, that helps laymen like myself to understand what is actually going on. And I hesitate to call them retellings when they use the word for word dialog straight from the source, but here we are anyway.
I still recognize the genius of Shakespeare though. He captured themes and motifs that are as relevant today as when he first put quill pen to paper. His plays have worked as inspiration for a number of modern pieces of work. The so-called “merry war” between the two protagonists, Benedick and Beatrice, has led to a number of classic screwball romantic comedies of the 1930s and the 40s. Whedon strikes a very similar tone to those older movies complete with some screwball humor, slapstick, and some fantastic reaction shots, much of which came from Clark Gregg, as the governor and host, Leonato, to the rest of the characters.
These kind of adaptations always need a clever director to properly modernize the play, and I have a feeling that anyone who visits a site called House of Geekery wouldn’t deny Joss Whedon’s ability to be clever. Shot on a shoestring buget in 12 days in Whedon’s own home, it makes great use out of a DIY philosophy. Without any of his usual sci-fi/fantasy metaphors, Whedon’s strong case becomes his ultimate weapon.
Cast along with Gregg (Avengers), Whedon has assembled a who’s who of his regular bullpen. Alexis Denisof (Wesley of Buffy/Angel) and Amy Acker (Fred of Angel) play Benedick and Beatrice. They are rivals with history who can’t help but banter and argue. They have incredible chemistry clearly left over from their days passively flirting with each other on Angel. Denisof in particular gave a truly hilarious performance. His character, Wesley, is my favorite of the Buffy-verse, and I always thought he should be more famous than he actually is. Reed Diamond (Dollhouse), Fran Kranz (Dollhouse, Cabin in the Woods), and Sean Maher (Firefly) round out the rest of Benedick’s crew. Capping off the cast is Nathan Fillion (Firefly, Buffy, and Dr Horrible) and Tom Lenk (Buffy and Cabin in the Woods) as inept cop partners fumbling through the proceedings to truly hysterical results.
This Shakespeare reimagining (that’s better than retelling) is sure to delight any Whedon fan, even those who aren’t Whedon fans (don’t faint, they exist).
What to Watch: Baz Luhrman’s Romeo and Juliet, as well as a version of Hamlet with Ethan Hawke, use a modern setting for Shakespeare’s dialog.