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With: Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Nathan Fillion, Clark Gregg, Reed Diamond, Fran Kranz, Sean Maher, Spencer Treat Clark, Riki Lindhome, Ashley Johnson, Emma Bates, Tom Lenk, Nick Kocher, Brian McElhaney, Joshua Zar, Paul M. Meston, Romy Rosemont, Jillian Morgese
Written by: Joss Whedon, based on a play by William Shakespeare
Directed by: Joss Whedon
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some sexuality and brief drug use
Running Time: 107
Date: 06/07/2013

Much Ado About Nothing (2013)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Cupid with Traps

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The last major movie based on one of William Shakespeare's plays was Ralph Fiennes' Coriolanus. A tough, gritty movie about war and political turmoil, it was set in modern times with violent battle scenes and CNN-style news commentary. Now comes Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing. Filmed in black-and-white on a low budget, over the course of 12 days at Whedon's own house, it's a breezy, joyous romantic comedy with a totally different vibe.

This shows the incredible versatility of Shakespeare, how 400 year-old works can be endlessly re-interpreted, adapted, and updated for amazing new results. But Much Ado About Nothing also shows the versatility of Whedon, whose last movie, the exponentially more expensive The Avengers, was also one of the most entertaining movies of its year.

Much Ado About Nothing takes place on a lovely estate. Romance is in the air amongst the several guests. Unfortunately, in this play, "some Cupid kills with arrows, some with traps." Claudio (Fran Kranz) falls for Hero (Jillian Morgese). At a masquerade ball, Don Pedro (Reed Diamond) pretends to be Claudio and wins Hero for him.

Meanwhile, longtime enemies Benedick (Alexis Denisof) and Beatrice (Amy Acker) snap at one another every time they get the chance. But some pranksters have an idea: they gossip about how one truly loves the other, hoping to be overheard. The plan works. Soon Benedick and Beatrice are clumsily swooning over each other.

Unfortunately, trouble comes when a rumor about Hero's infidelity breaks up Claudio and Hero's impending nuptials. Everyone is so distraught over this that even Beatrice issues Benedick a terrible ultimatum.

Kenneth Branagh filmed this same play back in 1993 in full color and with an all-star cast, though his version is a tad overcooked. By contrast, Whedon's version is so beautifully streamlined and balanced that it may be the most accessible of all Shakespeare movies.

Whedon generates genuine belly laughs with his clever staging, and the actors smooth over the cutsier parts of the play with wry winks. Especially funny is Nathan Fillion (from Whedon's "Firefly" TV series and Serenity movie) as Dogberry, a pompous but clueless cop.

Most of the actors are veterans of either Whedon's TV shows or movies; they have also been regular attendees of Shakespeare readings at Whedon's house for over a decade. Indeed, everyone in Much Ado About Nothing is perfectly relaxed and at home -- so much so that viewers, both experienced Shakespeare fans and amateurs, will be too.

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