Much Ado About Nothing

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In a recent Goes To The Movies I reviewed The Great Gatsby and I panned it.  I did it not only because panning things is easier than saying you liked them, but also because it was a horrific dump of a movie either way.  Baz Luhrmann took a classic work and failed to present it in a way that did it justice or to add anything at all to it that wasn’t a total jerk-off.  This week I Went To The Movies and saw another director show us his version of a different classic.  So let’s sit down together and discuss whether or not Joss Whedon’s quirky, stripped-down take on a Shakespeare classic falls into the same pitfalls or if maybe he’s not a fucking hack.

Shot over the course of 12 days while on break from The Avengers, Much Ado About Nothing has a very stripped-down, almost amateurish presentation.  The low production value is at the very least distracting.  For some people it will probably be too distracting, although it really shouldn’t.  More important than it being low-production is the fact that Much Ado About Nothing is visually the exact opposite of The Great Gatsby.  There is nothing here that will distract or take away from the basic story.  Where Luhrmann was attempting to speak for Fitzgerald’s Gatsby, Whedon is letting his adapted work speak for itself.

Also in contrast to Luhrmann’s direction, Whedon expertly walked a very fine line by keeping the narrative and themes of the original alive while making small changes that gave it a more personal feel without seeming disruptive.  With both the visual and narrative presentation of a film adaptation it’s important to “yes, and…” it a little bit without getting all egomaniacal about it.  If you do a direct transposition, you’ll bore the audience and if you add too much you’ll alienate them.  Knowing where to draw the line comes from having an excellent grasp on both storytelling and movie-making and Joss Whedon obviously has both.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say Much Ado About Nothing is a great film.  It may make my top 10 for the year, but it certainly won’t be all that high.  I’m not even really sure that making a ‘great’ film was Whedon’s concern.  Much Ado About Nothing’s importance seems to lie more in the fact that it gives us a fresh view of a work of art that has influenced and dominated pop culture for literally centuries.

That isn’t to say that Much Ado About Nothing is a heavy re-imagining, or even a light re-imagining really.  The goal of a West Side Story-like take on Shakespeare is to take the story and mold it to a more modern time.  It’s more likely that Much Ado About Nothing’s goal isn’t to show that we can still relate to the ideas and themes found in the original, it’s to show that we can still relate to the original itself.  To that end, the dialogue is kept old-school and the setting and wardrobe changes are probably more the result of convenience than of any desire to ‘update’ them.

Much Ado About Nothing is basically just the movie your high school english teacher wished to God they had back then.  If you still don’t quite ‘get’ Shakespeare it’s a movie you’ll be glad you have now.  Most peoples’ experience with Shakespeare is being forced to read the script of his plays in high school.  If you’ve ever actually seen his plays performed it’s equally likely that it was a high school or local theatre group who didn’t exactly have the chops to bring out the best in the story.  Just hearing the lines said aloud by professional actors is a cool experience.  Seeing the whole thing unfold in simple black-and-white at the director’s house adds a touch that could be distracting, but ultimately only helps streamline and focus the story.  For the first time this year, it’s someone tackling a classic in a way that lets you feel like you didn’t waste your time when it was over.  For a movie that was basically someone’s vacation, that’s not bad at all. – DT

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