A little more than halfway through Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing, our anti-heroine Beatrice and our anti-hero Benedick profess their love for each other. It’s a tender, affecting moment that neatly offsets the humor of the rest of the film. It’s such a beautiful scene, in fact, that I grew misty eyed and euphoric, and that’s how Shakespeare movies and plays are supposed to make you feel.
Elegant without being condescending, Whedon’s modern-day take on the classic comedy of errors is a masterpiece. In short, Don Pedro, his right-hand man Claudio, and his brother Don John visit a noble named Leonato. Leonato has a daughter named Hero, with whom Claudio quickly becomes infatuated. Don Pedro offers to woo Hero at the evening’s costume party, whereupon he will “give” the young lady (with papa’s permission) to Claudio. Simple subterfuge, but all is revealed to Hero, and all is well. Until the villainous Don John gets involved, that is, and a major misunderstanding tears the couple apart.
While all of this is going on, Claudio’s best pal Benedick – an avowed bachelor who scorns marriage – spars verbally with Hero’s cousin Beatrice, who is equally adamant on the topic of marriage. This being Shakespeare, I think we have a good idea where these two are headed. Oh, and along for the more-obvious comic relief (as opposed to the more cultured banter between Beatrice and Benedick) is the local night watchmen, overseen by Dogberry, a man who would have trouble detecting his own behind with both hands. I’m digressing, but you get the idea.
I won’t go too much deeper into the plot, because most viewers probably had to read the play in high school or college. Since it’s a comedy, suffice to say that all’s well that ends well. But the performances! Many of the players had worked with Whedon on earlier projects such as Angel, Buffy, Castle, Firefly, and The Avengers and may be familiar by look if not by name. Nathan Fillion, the able captain of the good ship Firefly, is well cast as the clueless Dogberry (in one memorable ad-libbed scene, Dogberry and his assistant realize they’ve locked their keys in their car and frantically search their pockets). Clark Gregg, Agent Coulson to you, plays Leonato. But the entire cast stands out. This is a real triumph of talent, expertly shot (at Whedon’s own house) and acted with such audacity and tenaciousness."Finally, #4000! And it's Shakespeare!",