One of the great litmus tests of any Shakespeare production, on stage or screen, is, “Does it make sense to a modern audience?” The floweriness and idiosyncrasies of the 16th-century prose aren’t always readily understood here in the 21st century. But when it works, it is a testament to the skills of the director and actors. Happily, Joss Whedon’s (THE AVENGERS) charming, quickly made MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING handily passes the test.
Set at a country estate—actually Whedon’s own house—in a period that is clearly contemporary and yet also somehow timeless, MUCH ADO centers on the romantically contentious relations between determined bachelor Benedick (Alexis Denisof) and independent woman Beatrice (Amy Acker). Although the two are obviously perfect for each other, their pride and emphatic distrust of marriage keep them apart. Meanwhile, Benedick’s earnest friend Claudio (Fran Kranz) has become betrothed to Beatrice’s cousin Hero (Jillian Morgese). To kill time before the wedding, the gathered family and friends conspire to trick Beatrice and Benedick into declaring their love for one another.
Beatrice and Benedick’s banter—or their “merry war,” as it is referred to—was, along with The Taming of the Shrew, clearly an influence on Hollywood’s screwball comedies of the 1930s, and Whedon evokes those films by shooting in black and white and introducing a little slapstick into the proceedings. Despite Whedon’s solid reputation as a horror and sci-fi director, he is also, quite obviously, a romantic. The charm and sensitivity of MUCH ADO make this timeless classic appealing to a whole new generation.