This week, we take a look at the much acclaimed black and white 2012 edition of Much Ado About Nothing, directed by Joss Whedon. He filmed it in 12 days, shortly after wrapping on Avengers Assemble and the entire film was shot in his private home. As often seems to be the case, this entire cast is made up of “the one from that thing, you know?” – in this case, rather than obscure BBC shows, it’s the entirety of Joss Whedon’s back catalogue. Agent Coulson, that bloke from Firefly and most of the background extras in Avengers Assemble pop up in various guises. If they weren’t so good, you would have to assume that Joss Whedon was the ultimate I-only-cast-my-friends director. (We all know one)
And is it any good? Well, yes. It’s well thought out, it’s nicely shot and there is not a single Styrofoam lion to be found. The text seems to work well in the setting and there are no rogue cast members attempting to derail or distract so broadly, I’m calling this one a success. The main takeaway I had from it is that the plot works better when you assume everyone was permanently either hammered or hungover – evidently, Joss Whedon has a very well stocked alcohol cupboard. And with that, onto Much Review About Nothing: The Joss Whedon Edition!
This version has also chosen to begin with Beatrice and Benedict’s backstory, and it’s another case of Benedict The Horrible Love Rat as he walks out on Beatrice after a night together. Bit of a somber start, especially given most stage versions begin with a flotilla of minstrels and a party.
We switch to the present time and Agent Coulson is here! He is playing Leonato, who receives a text rather than the usual Ye Olde Scroll to inform the household that Don Pedro is approached. I’m unclear as to what war has just occurred, but it’s apparently not terribly exciting as most of the household are far more concerned with the salad preparation than the news of a war being over.
Agent Coulson just did a little roar. Not quite a Brian Blessed sized roar but a roar nonetheless, and with very little context or justification. I also appreciate Beatrice’s desire to have a knife in her hand whenever she refers to Benedict, but it’s hindering everyone else’s salad prep.
There is a fairly lowkey entrance from the victorious army – Don Pedro and his cohort of “soldiers” look less like battle weary soldiers and a bit more like Sixth Formers returning from a particularly hard General Studies lesson. Except for Borachio, who looks about 12 and surely isn’t old enough to either go to war or drink.
Beatrice and Benedict have their first verbal spar in private, whilst angrily flower arranging. I had never considered aggressive floristry as a potential method of attack against an ex-lover but I will consider it such henceforth.
Dramatic music as Don John has appeared. He seems to be restrained with freezer ties…this is one of a few moments in the film where you stop and ponder – Art? Or budgetary limitations?
Most of the discussion over whether Claudio should marry Hero takes place in a very obvious children’s bedroom, with obvious tiny children’s beds.
Either no one is going to sleep at all while they’re here, or they’re going to be highly uncomfortable. Benedict monologuing around a giant Barbie house only serves to underline this situation.
And now they wrestle on the tiny beds, which looks hazardous to them and also to the structural integrity of the bedframes.
It’s all lots of fun, although I do have trouble believing any of them were at war until recently.
Now we cut to Don John, who seems to have been given a sex cage rather than a children’s room. Which is just as well, since Conrade is A) a woman and B) not being very subtle about what she’s actually doing in his room. I wonder with this scene whether every director that approaches it finds it so dull that they have to spice it up with caverns, oil or sex. Or possibly all three. Either way, plotting and villainous monologues are currently second fiddle to general sexy behaviour.
Borachio enters as they are getting towards the business end of things, and they have to stop with all of the sex. For now. Probably just as well since Borachio looks about 12 – not old enough to have had a full Sex Education class, much less actually do the deed himself.
The second he leaves, they jump right back to it against a door. This must be a little bit weird for Joss Whedon considering that it’s not a film set, it’s actually his house.
We cut to the party preparations, and Agent Coulson is wearing a very fetching paisley scarf. Beatrice appears to have overdone it on the predrinks and is drunk while everyone else is getting started.
Drinking near a swimming pool may be aesthetically pleasing but it is also incredibly dangerous so lose 10 points for your poor party planning, Agent Coulson. Borachio reveals an unexpected talent for piano playing – this film is nothing if not efficient, it would seem.
There is a drunk man hitting on Beatrice and he is doing his level best to pull focus throughout most of the scene. An attitude I can fully get behind – you milk that screen time, drunk man. But then Benedict comes along and one-ups him by threatening Beatrice with a flaming marshmallow. Then joins a conga line. Why not?
We reach the morning after and EVERYONE IS IN THE POOL. WHY? Did you miss my memo about it being dangerous??
It’s not quite everyone; it’s actually just Claudio surrounded by Don John, Conrade and Borachio, leading to questions about what on earth was going on under the water.
Having been confused by the Bad Guys Swimming Club, Claudio storms straight into the house to find Benedict. And hungover Benedict has no time for your misunderstandings, Claudio. He is cleaning the house the morning after, like an A+++ party guest though, so points to Benedict.
Still-drunk Don Pedro is riffing away on a guitar. He’s not terribly good but he is a prince so no one says anything.
It’s a genius move to have these conversations played out as though everyone is drunk and/or overexcited though, since it explains the sillier bits of the Shakespeare without assuming that the characters are a bit stupid.
Hero looks fairly unenthused about marrying Claudio and based off it being agreed while everyone was sozzled, I can concur with that. Don Pedro drunkenly propositioning Beatrice works beautifully though.
More shots! How is anyone sober around here? Hero evidently isn’t as she is substituting having any lines for pulling focus by spitting out her drink at unexpected moments. Got to work with what you’re given, I guess.
Don John has found out about Claudio and Hero via an air vent of plot convenience, and he is unhappy about it. But telling the 12 year old to go and seduce people seems like a poor solution – I definitely had a poor grip on the concept of sex aged 12.
Benedict grousing about love while surrounded by Wedding Admin is perfect. Less perfect is the decision to have a different woman appear every time he mentions women in general.
“Shall we hear this music?” and an iPod is connected. Genius. Points to Whedon for that one. It’s also very nicely staged to have Benedict on the other side of the windows during the tricking scene, leading to general hijinks and commando rolling around in the background.
This is followed by some unconvincing yoga as Benedict attempts to impress Beatrice with his Cobra. Not an innuendo.
Then Beatrice rather dramatically falls down the stairs. Which looked both dangerous and painful but apparently she’s A-OK and the scene continues. Hero and Margaret are both played by extras in Avengers Assemble – I hope that saves you an IMDB trip if you were watching and wondering where you had seen them before.
We’re back in the lads’ bedroom/6 year old girl’s room again and a ladder of toys has been added in the corner. Benedict has shaved and Don Pedro and Claudio are doing lots of manly fist-bumping.
But then an ominous underscoring begins and Don John appears, accompanied by the eerie harmonica music of betrayal. I like to imagine it was just Joss Whedon playing a harmonica off camera for the atmosphere.
Oooooh here is Nathan Fillion’s Dogberry as an overly earnest home-security man. And it works! He’s accompanied by a troupe of incompetent interns as the Watch and it’s frankly a masterclass in making difficult Shakespeare work.
They stumble across Conrad and Borachio, who has had possibly his first ever taste of alcohol. It hasn’t agreed with him.
And suddenly we plunge into some slightly seedy soft-focus flashback scenes, in case the audience isn’t smart enough to work out what “wooed” means in this context. Sex. He means sex. They are then arrested by the interns, who look far too young to be handling firearms.
It’s wedding time, and the Messenger from way back in the first scene is here and throwing shade as much as his hastily expanded part allows. Which is to say, he’s doing an awful lot with very little.
Agent Coulson looks adorably ready for a wedding. He should rock this look in Marvel movies too.
Props to the photographer for continuing to photograph the wedding as it takes a turn south and Claudio starts hurling accusations of sex around. She’s been paid for a job and she’s clearly going to do it, regardless of what the content of the photos is.
The issue of setting it in the modern day is that it feels very uncomfortable seeing people discussing virginity, or a lack of, in public. Although how much of that is my crippling Britishness is up for debate.
But the Messenger clearly agrees with me since he’s awkwardly trying to shoo away the crowds. Or perhaps he’s still just trying to build his part.
Benedict sneaks away for a shot mid-service. This is the sort of wedding etiquette I can get behind. Meanwhile, Hero faints, slightly anti-climatically and probably just because the lines don’t make sense without it.
And now Agent Coulson is having a fatherhood crisis and alternating between hugging Hero and threatening to kill her if she’s had sex. Fathers in Shakespeare – who’d have them? Between Lord Capulet, Lear, Gloucester and now Leonato, there aren’t many solid models for parenthood circa 1600.
The famous post-wedding scene between Beatrice and Benedict takes place in the dining room. Unsure if they were both moping or or hoping to take advantage of all of the free catering. Or both.
Beatrice telling Benedict to duel Claudio now sounds like an even more onerous obligation since first, he’s going to have to work out what on earth a duel looks like in the 2010s. Water guns? Gladiator podiums? I would opt for the latter.
Time for a much less macabre interrogation scene than is often the case, and the Sexton looks like anyone would look when presented with a room of interns with a lot of feelings. He’s also staggeringly competent by comparison and it’s wonderful.
Don Pedro and Claudio are STILL drunk (go crazy, since clearly Joss Whedon is paying) and are only sobered up by a double whammy of Benedict suddenly slapping Claudio and a heavy dose of underscoring. And still no one is bothered that dueling is highly impractical.
The Watch have brought Conrad and Borachio (I’ve finally worked out who he reminds me of and it’s a budget Alex Pettyfer from about 2005) to confess their crimes. Agent Coulson gets to demonstrate some serious acting chops – this scene is actually very moving.
It’s then promptly upstaged by Dogberry; Nathan Fillion is scene-stealing as only he can.
But then we take a turn for the drastically happier as Benedict sings badly and woos Beatrice with aplomb, all while aping the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet.
They’ve reassembled the wedding set with incredible efficiency, and the same photographer is back! I wonder what she’s been up to, and I hope they pay her extra for double wedding duty.
Happily, Don Pedro is finally sober for the first time since the shoot began.
And we end on a less frenzied and more relaxed note than other adaptations, with a little bit of music and an awful lot of dorky disco dancing all round.
Drinks Consumed On Screen: A highly concerning 34. I don’t know who picked up the tab for that one.
Not Cricket Rating: It’s Cricket. A smart, fast and very competent version of the play with excellent acting and beautiful cinematography.