I was as excited for this movie as it is possible to be — I remember when Whedon hinted at shutting his friends up in his house and filming it, I remember when the cast leaked out, I am a big fan of Shakespeare adaptations generally, and Much Ado About Nothing is my favorite Shakespeare comedy, despite all its deficiencies, because Benedick and Beatrice are my favorite Shakespearean couple, bar none. And any devastated fan of Angel was eager to see Wesley and Fred back together, sadder but wiser and less possessed by an alien ice thing. So I was bouncing in my seat as the opening credits rolled.
And I did like the music (put together by Joss and Jed Whedon), the physical comedy, Joss Whedon’s ridiculously gorgeous house, and the development of my favorite subtextual theme, that B&B had a previous relationship that soured and just needed nudging to give it another go (so much more plausible than the instant just-add-water love….).
I thought Sean Maher was good as Don John (although my god the handsome man needs to close his mouth between lines sometimes), and the direction of the scene where he initially misleads Claudio (Fran Kranz) about the Duke’s wooing of Hero was very finely done, highlighting that Claudio tends to fly off the handle about lots of things, which makes The Great Wedding Shaming more plausible as well.
That said…. it left me a little flat. I felt like it lacked energy, in part because of the black and white palette, some too-leisurely editing, and partly because…well…the accents were so American. Whedon’s got a great eye for gorgeous scene-setting, but the pace and momentum were lacking for me. Setting it contemporarily when clearly everyone was hooking up behind the scenes meant it was extra-tricky to understand why it was so important that Hero be a virgin. And worse still, because it was so hurriedly put together, I felt like Amy Acker and Alexis Denisoff, though at their best in scenes with eachother, just weren’t quite up to the task. They’d learned the lines but hadn’t had time to absorb them, to be able to convey images with their text, to bring the archaic rhythms to life. Denisof seemed self-conscious during the necessary monologuing, and Acker wasn’t much more at home. Hero is a thankless role, and Jillian Morgese’s main achievement was in looking an awful lot like Amy Acker. Reed Diamond’s Don Pedro was convincing but a little wooden.
Nathan Fillion’s Dogberry, resolutely attempting to evade Michael Keaton’s shadow, was funny but similarly lacked precision on the punchlines (his buffoonery with Tom Lenk was delightful, however). When 2/3 of a character’s speech is malapropism, the language needs to be even more sharply articulate, and I felt like he was giving it Captain Hammer diction instead of the more classical sharpness you’d expect/hope to hear.
I finally breathed a sigh of relief when the Friar stepped in to officiate the wedding (Harold!). Shakespeare is in an English accent what opera is in its original language–at ease, at home, and fluent. That’s simplistic, I know, and I have seen adaptations where Americanization didn’t bother me, but I wanted fireworks and what I got were sparklers, some of which glowed brighter than others (Clark Gregg was perfect — I could hardly tell he was speaking Shakespeare at all; his castmates could take notes). It has to be hard to go up against Kenneth Branaugh and Emma Thompson at their best, and I’m glad Whedon tried. I hope he keeps it up and works his way through the entire canon–his Antony and Cleopatra would really be something.
AND WHILE I’M HERE
I want to draw your attention to this casting-in-progress for a film adaptation of Into The Woods. Singing, like Shakespearean acting, is hard. Only people who have proven themselves good at it, really, should get to do the movie versions. Nothing against Chris Pine, Jake Gyllenhaal, Emily Blunt, or James Corden, (Johnny Depp I will never forgive for butchering (…) Sweeney Todd or participating in The Lone Ranger), (Ms. Streep may of course do whatever she wants), but PEOPLE WHO AREN’T SINGERS ARE BAD CHOICES FOR MUSICALS. Grumble.