Well, this was a bore.
I have to admit, I just don’t think I’m a fan of this story much. I rather hated the 1993 version starring Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh, but at least with that version it felt authentic and fluid. There is a lot missing from Joss Whedon’s adaptation, and all of the things that I thought would make me connect to this film wound up taking me even further out of the story and forcing me to hate it even more.
It is very pretty though.
Modernizing Shakespeare is nothing new. We saw it done in 1996 with ‘Romeo + Juliet’ and then again in 2000 with ‘Hamlet’. Both of those versions, much like Whedon’s film, kept the original dialog and Old English dialect intact. I’m not ashamed to say that I consider Baz Luhrmann’s ‘Romeo + Juliet’ to be a masterpiece of modern cinema and a bench march for Shakespearian adaptations. It’s just perfect. While many took issue with the use of Old English, I found that the natural performances really heightened the experience, taking the dialog and making it feel fresh, authentic and appropriate. It is tricky when you take these particular ‘words’ and update the setting.
It’s a slippery slope.
Others have attempted updating Shakespeare and completely rewriting his dialog and situations to make it work. We saw this in 1999’s ’10 Things I Hate About You’. It worked really, really well. Shakespeare is a gamble, but it is a risk that many filmmakers and actors have attempted and will continue to attempt because his work is so important and universally beloved.
So, what exactly is the problem with Whedon’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing’? Well, for starters, the acting is a serious sore point. I will admit, I never followed Whedon’s television career and I am not familiar with these actors at all. I do understand that he has a following and that these actors are regulars (mostly) for his work and that his fans were delighted to see them get roles here. This was a passion project for Whedon as well, which I admire. He filmed the whole thing at his own home. I think that is also a major issue with me, for the nature of this film felt very ‘drama student rehearsing’. The whole feel of the film was very amateur to me. The line readings were awkward and while the majority of the staging and even the modern adapting of scenarios was intriguing and definitely eye catching, the delivery felt off kilter.
Alexis Denisof is especially unfortunate, and he has a major role here.
Despite being beautifully filmed, I found that my attention was never held by this film. Like I mentioned on the outset, I’m just not a fan of the story much, but I had higher hopes for this. The convoluted plot can be scattered, cluttered and ridiculous, but where I initially thought the silly nature of the 1993 version was a detractor, I’m beginning to think it was a saving grace. This film loses all of the whimsy nature of the story and replaces it with slow burn that feels void of any real spark or energy. It almost emphasizes the story’s ridiculousness because it isn’t masked over by the film’s tone.
Sadly, the film has no tone.
I give this a D. I really wanted this to be good, but I kind of hated it. It isn’t without some merit though. It is beautifully shot (that black and white is so crisp) and Jillian Morgese (in her first substantial role) is really, really good here (the only natural performer). I also thought that Whedon’s adaptation itself was really inspired, but his direction was too light and his actors were poorly suited to the material. Oscar will ignore this completely, but it has had a few critics’ mentions this year so far. I understand ‘wanting’ to like this movie; but I honestly can’t understand actually liking it.