Santa Cruz Good Times

Friday
Sep 04th
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Modern Romance

filmnuttinWhedon blends Shakespeare, screwball comedy in entertaining 'Much Ado About Nothing'

Who else but Joss Whedon could pull this off? Not only does he set William Shakespeare's romantic comedy, Much Ado About Nothing, original Elizabethan-era wit and wordplay intact, in modern-day Santa Monica, he shoots it in black-and-white—a visual detail that suggests the sparkling vintage screwball comedies of the 1930s more than the Elizabethan stage. It's an impudent idea for a movie realized with great charm and affection by a master craftsman and his devoted repertory company of players.

As a writer and director, Whedon is best known for a particularly wry and sophisticated brand of horror/fantasy/sci-fi genre work, from Buffy and Firefly on TV to Cabin In the Woods, and The Avengers on the big screen. Much Ado is something completely different; a project that as been dear to his heart for a long time, it was shot in just 12 days, using Whedon's own Santa Monica home and its grounds as the principal set. The immediacy of this shooting process only helps to remind us how timeless and timely Shakespearean stories can be.

Not that you need to know the play to enjoy the film. The central story of a bantering couple too busy flinging defensive witticisms at each other to realize they're in love is prime romantic comedy fodder in any era. Here they are played con brio by Alex Denisof and Amy Acker: he's Benedick, a confirmed bachelor convinced no woman will ever be paragon enough for him, and she's his favorite sparring partner, the "merry" Beatrice, who "mocks her suitors out of suit," in search of a worthy man who can be her match.

The exposition is dispensed with quickly enough. The warrior prince, Don Pedro (Reed Diamond) returns from a successful campaign with his retinue, which includes the seasoned Benedick and his young friend, Claudio (Fran Kranz), and Leonato's disgraced brother, Don Jon (Sean Maher). They arrive to spend a week with Don Pedro's friend and ally, Leonato (Clark Gregg), at the home he shares with his virtuous daughter, Hero (Jillian Morgese), and his niece, Beatrice.

Then the plot kicks in. Claudio and Hero fall in love and plan to wed at the end of the week; to amuse themselves until then, they scheme with Leonato and Don Pedro to "trick" Beatrice and Benedick into falling in love as well. Meanwhile, a more sinister plot is cooked up by the killjoy Don John and his cohorts to convince Claudio that the virginal Hero has been unfaithful to him. (Since Whedon makes one of Don John's confederates a woman, a lot of his villainous exposition plays out onscreen as pillow talk.)

The Shakespearean dialogue sounds a bit odd in this setting at first, but we quickly get used to it thanks to the actors' breezy delivery. (Including Nathan Fillion, very funny as Dogberry, here a malapropping, pompous but never mean-spirited police chief.) And Whedon always has something interesting going on in the frame, especially in his adroit use of the house interiors. The camera is always trailing after characters down hallways, or spying on them over balconies or through grille work. Benedick and Claudio are quartered in a girl's bedroom complete with stuffed animals and Barbie dolls. Denisof delivers an entire soliloquy while jogging up and down an outside staircase.

The masked ball is staged poolside at night, with a pair of trapeze artists for entertainment, entwining to a soft-jazz version of Shakespeare's famous song, "Sigh No More." (Whedon also adapted the songs, including the backdrop to a lovely candlelight procession at dusk.) When Benedick "overhears" the others inside discussing how much Beatrice loves him, his head pops up hilariously in every window in the room; when Beatrice hears a similar conversation, she pratfalls down the kitchen stairs in shock.

Ultimately it's up to the two of them to carry the story, and wry Denisof and vivacious Acker make a splendid job of it. Whedon has the smart idea that they've already been bedmates, but in typical modern fashion, sex doesn't necessarily mean they've yet learned to value each other. Denisof and Acker are not only funny as hell, but they bring emotional urgency to the perilous ebb and giddy flow of their thoroughly modern romance.

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING ★ ★ ★ (out of four)

With Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Clark Gregg, and Nathan Fillion. Written by William Shakespeare. Adapted and directed by Joss Whedon. A Roadside Attractions release. Rated PG-13. 107 minutes.

Comments (0)Add Comment

Write comment
smaller | bigger

busy
 

Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share

 

You Are What You Post

Online personality algorithms put astrological profiles to shame, but UCSC psychologists are raising questions about sharing personal data

 

Venus Direct, Mercury Retro Soon, Honoring Our Labors

As Burning Man (nine days, Aug. 30-Sept. 7 in the sign of Virgo) burns in the hot white desert sands, a petal of the rose created by retrograde Venus and the twelve-petaled Sun in Virgo’s petals unfold. All of us are on the burning ground (Leo) in the womb (cave of the heart) of the mother (Virgo), gestating for humanity once again (each year) a new state of consciousness. Both Virgo and Cancer, feminine (receptive energies) signs, are from our last solar system (Pleiades). When humanity first appeared on Earth we were nurtured by the mother, a matriarchy of energies (on islands in the Pacific). Eve, Isis and Mary are part of the lineages of our ancient Mother. Overseen by the Pleiades, the Earth (matter, mater, the mother) in that last solar system was imbued with intelligence (Ray 3). As we move toward autumn, another mother, Ceres realizes she has mere weeks left with her beloved daughter, Persephone. Persimmon and pomegranate trees prepare for autumn, their colors signs of hope as the light each day continues to dim. Sunday, Venus in Leo turns stationary direct, yet continues in her shadow until Oct. 9 (when retrograde Mercury turns direct). Slowly our newly assessed values emerge from the Venus retrograde. We thought in Venus retro how to use our resources more effectively. Mercury retrogrades Sept. 17. Monday is Labor Day. Let us honor the labor of everyone, all life a “labor.” Let us honor Labor Day and all those who have “served” (labored for) us this past year. We honor their labors. We honor the labor of our parents, those who have loved us. We honor our own labors, too. We are all in service, we are all laboring. We are all valuable.

 

The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program

 

Film, Times & Events: Week of September 4

Santa Cruz area movie theaters >
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments

 

Sushi Garden

Local sushi empire expands to Scotts Valley

 

Do you overshare online?

I don’t think so. I just post things about my life, like successful things. Sometimes I just like sharing different news that I find interesting, or favorite artists, clothes, music. I like to post photos. Natalia Delgado, Santa Cruz, Server

 

McIntyre Vineyards

I recently met up with three friends for dinner at Sanderlings at Seascape Beach Resort. We chose to eat outside so we could watch the sun set over the ocean, but the Aptos fog rolled in and swallowed it up.

 

Sustainable Supper

The Homeless Garden Project’s Sustain Supper series supports its award-winning programs