Much Ado About . . . What?!

Clark Gregg as sincere father
and straight man--one of
the better aspects of the movie.
I finally got around to watching Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing.

Considering its origins (its writer, producer, director), it is bizarrely--bizarrely--humorless.

Clark Gregg does a fine job. Amy Acker is a natural. The first (but not last) mistake comes in casting Alexis Denisof as Benedick when he should have been cast as Don John or the Prince. (Denisof does "Mr. Dangerous" exceedingly well.)

When I first heard that Nathan Fillion was in the movie, I assumed he would play Benedick. After all, Castle could easily be sub-titled, "The Continuing Adventures of Benedick and Beatrice" with no great stretch of the imagination.

More on Fillion later--suffice it to say for now that he exhibits the perfect blend of wit and exuberance that has, in my experience at least, been the hallmark of great Benedicks, such as Branagh and Damian Lewis.

Damian Lewis and his Beatrice, Sarah Parish, cracking up
at their own wedding!
Alexis Denisof, an actor of no mean skill, plays (and was, as far as I can tell, instructed to play) Benedick as angry and morose. His quips in the opening scenes don't come across as funny; they come across as peevish. The quick repartee is lost in angsty self-indulgence.

Maybe it's a Mafia thing.

Although I quite like Whedon's film noir Mafia look, it is all wrong for Much Ado About Nothing. Only guileless people with innocent souls would fall for Don John's guff. Much Ado About Nothing is about happy people doing dumb things when an unhappy guy tries to take revenge. It is NOT about unhappy, dumb people becoming even more unhappy and dumb when an unhappy guy tries to take revenge. (It would be interesting to watch Whedon's Much Ado with the sound off; if I didn't know I was watching a great Shakespearean comedy, would I think I was watching Hamlet? Or King Lear?)

The only scenes in the movie where I laughed out loud were Nathan Fillion's. As far as I can tell (and it is hard to tell), Whedon was aiming for a kind of film noir comedy with a Double Indemnity double entendre flavor. Maybe it's all that Castle work but Nathan Fillion is the only one who actually pulls it off. He delivers Dogberry's pompous political police lines straight-faced with just a hint of something off-kilter. Tom Lenk offers excellent back-up.

Actually, I think Nathan Fillion is quite simply a very fine actor.

In any case, there's a reason Branagh--not Whedon--did Thor. Leave Shakespeare to the people who speak it as plainly as they discuss laundry. All the cleverness in the world can't make up for a lack of natural dialog--as Whedon well knows.

1 comment:

Joe said...

First, the look of this film is awful. I understand Whedon used black and white so he wouldn't have to repaint his house and worry about color balancing. However, the result is a flat, muddy mess. Restrictions on framing and composition are understandable, but still dreadful.

With very few exceptions, the acting was really bad. (I dislike Clark Gregg in general for reasons I can't quite pin down, though in part because I never believe him in any role--to me, he's always Clark Gregg reciting lines.) Nathan Fillion is a good actor, but still pales in comparison to Michael Keaton's performance in Branagh's version, which does illustrate how much Whedon and many other directors miss the point--much of Shakespeare, especially his comedies, is intended to be over-the-top (playing Romeo and Juliet straight is boring and even macabre while playing it with a bunch of insane teenagers and gangsters works.)

Incidentally, even more than Fillion, the real standout "graduate" of Whedon's "stable" is Amy Acker.

(Incidentally, one of the interesting aspects of long run TV series with young actors is how they mature differently as both people and actors, which often causes what I'll call unbalanced acting [one of the most important aspect of casting is that everyone be about the same skill level else the bad acting becomes really glaring.])