When Joss Whedon needed a break after the hectic filming of The Avengers, he didn’t go on vacation. Instead, he invited his close friends to his home for two weeks to make a film: William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. At last night’s kick off for the Seattle International Film Festival, a theater packed with 3000 eager Whedon fans cheered and laughed at the Bard’s comedy just like we were all groundlings gathered at the Globe.
Much Ado About Nothing is a tale of love, focused on two romantic pairings mixed in with a fair bit of drama. After returning from war to rest at the home of Don Leonato (played by Clark Gregg), Claudio woos the sweet Hero, which serves as the main plot of the story. But it’s the pairing of the reluctant Benedick and Beatrice, played by Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker respectively, that provide the more memorable and entertaining moments of the film. (If you’re a longtime fan of Angel and you want to see Wesley and Fred get the happy time together they deserved, buy your tickets now.)
The fast-paced “skirmish of wit” between Beatrice and Benedick translates well to this updated version, with a bit of slapstick thrown in to give the movie some real laugh out loud moments. Granted, the theater was filled to the brim with swooning fans, but there was something magical about a Shakespeare comedy giving the older gentleman next to me a fit of the giggles.
When updating the play for the screen, Joss Whedon made only a few alterations that flowed seamlessly without changing the text. Casting a female as one of the villain’s henchmen, giving some context to Benedick’s and Beatrice’s relationship without adding any dialogue, and having modern touches like cell phones and a paparazzi-style photographer all worked well. My favorite scene was the masked party in the backyard, where acrobats performed to the strains of “Sigh No More, Ladies,” the song included in the original play but this time with music written by Joss himself. The entire scene was enchanting, celebratory, and like the film, utterly romantic.
After the film, Joss Whedon and members of the cast appeared onstage for a short Q&A, where they revealed their own favorite scenes and moments filming the movie. Not many claimed prior Shakespeare experience – “Shakesperience!” Whedon interjected – and Nathan Fillion admitted not having much time to prepare for the role. In fact, he thanked Joss for not letting him “chicken out” from the movie.
The moderator asked if speaking Shakespearean dialogue without a formal British accent seemed odd to the actors. “Joss would host readings at his house for a [Shakespeare] play here and there,” answered Alexis Denisof, “and I don’t think we ever thought about it at those readings. They were just a fun excuse to get together to hear a play and have a glass of wine with your friends… That spirit sort of infused this film.”
Much Ado About Nothing absolutely feels like a gathering of old friends, with many familiar faces from the Whedonverse, all joining together to match wits and talk of love and marriage. The film opens nationwide on June 7, 2013.