Much A-Nerd About Something. (Worst Title Ever)

Shakespeare adaptations may seem an odd choice for a pop culture nerd site. But it makes a lot more sense than you think. Already I’ve written about William Shakespeare’s Star Wars. And his work is prominent in all genres and mediums. Look at Neil Gaiman’s 19th issue of Sandman where the first performance of Shakespeare’s great fantasy A Midsummer Night’s Dream takes place. Actually Shakespeare himself packed his works with all number of themes and motifs to be found in comics, novels, television, gaming and film.

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So Shakespeare may be the perfect topic for a domain such as this.

Need more nerdy cred? How about this particular version of Much Ado About Nothing was directed by Joss Whedon while he took a contractual two week vacation from The Avengers. You can’t get more hardcore nerdy than that.

The works of Billy the Bard have become a small fascination with me. The more I read/watch them, the more I see their influence in countless other works. Looking beyond the poetic speech (which can be painfully beautiful, funny, and tragic) and the proper elements for great storytelling are there. You’ve got characters with goals they try (and sometimes die) to achieve. Several others with goals directly opposed to theirs. All kinds of twists, turns, and excitement. That dude really packed as much as he could into everything.

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This may perhaps be why Much Ado About Nothing has never been my favorite of his plays. The language is fantastic. Beatrice and Benedick are hysterical, and watching them dance around their feelings until everyone decides to give them the kick they need to just admit they love each other is totally rewarding.

However, Claudio, Hero, and Don John are pretty boring. Claudio is borderline stupid. Twice he’s duped into believing something about his beloved(?) that isn’t true, by the same guy whom nobody likes anyway. Not only that, but what few conflicts he encounters are brushed aside moments later, resulting in no suspense whatsoever, causing those scenes to drag on and on.

From what I understand, the play isn’t necessarily the thing (I believe I stole that from the Artvoice in Buffalo) when it comes to Much Ado. Instead what appeals to people is the sharp dialogue (all the best bits given by Beatrice) and the subtext. Apparently it says a great deal of society’s mandate on love, and the double standard it enforces and such. I don’t mean to downplay this. It is the very reason so many love the play. But I’m still fairly new to the concept of grasping Shakespeare, and his gender politics are a little too deep for me at the moment.

Years ago I saw the play in school and was naturally confused. I read the play a few months back and liked it. I saw the 1993 Kenneth Branagh film. Apart from some bizarre casting choices, that film was genuinely funny and pretty to look at.

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I will admit that my interest in it came from seeing the trailer for Joss Whedon’s film. He’d cast great actors in roles I’d never seen them in before, and instead of going all Baz Luhrmann on the material he went minimalist. That really appealed to me.

The other day I watched it and enjoyed it very much. Actually my reason for writing this now as opposed to immediately after watching it is because the more it settles, the more I like it. My gripes with the easily dismissed conflicts are equally dismissed when recalling Whedon’s staging of the film, or the small touches provided by the actors that breath life into these centuries old characters.

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The obvious star of the piece is Amy Acker as Beatrice. Shakespeare’s dialogue always sounds natural coming from her (something that can’t be said of everyone). What really sells me on her is her reactions to some of Benedick’s more BeneDICKI-ish jabs. You see the pain of the remark wrestling with the confusion of why she would let his words affect her and her attempt to keep face. Conveying one clear thought without words is hard. Perfectly conveying three all at war with each other is f*cking impossible! She does it effortlessly.

(I have to say this is a welcome surprise. A couple of weeks ago, I saw her in this atrociously bad holiday film called Dear Santa. I always liked her on Angel, and was crushed to see her bombing so terribly. Turns out it was just a shitty movie. Because here she is in full form and crushing it. REALLY SUPER blown away by her.)

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A lot of that has to do with the structural choice Whedon made to begin with a silent prologue depicting a one-night stand between Beatrice and Benedick. That once scene paints the rest of the film, informing everything.

Alexis Denisof plays a slightly less bumbling Benedick. He’s just kind of a dick. You get the feeling he’s not REALLY a jerk, and constantly performing as one is starting to get to him, but he comes off much colder than Branagh’s. Unfortunately I don’t always believe his delivery. Still, awesome casting.

Sean Maher is fantastic as Don John (certainly a better choice that Keanu Reeves). How is he no a super famous person? Not only does he have the stupidly perfect looks of a leading man – he’s a damn good actor too!

I also really liked Nathan Fillion and Tom Lenk as Dogberry and verges, two security guards with severe delusions of ’70s TV cop grandeur. Originally these two characters bored me in the play. Here they’re arrogance and naivete (as well as Dogberry’s complete miscomprehension of the English language) is charming.

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If there’s one misstep it would have to be Clark “Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D” Gregg as Leonato. Not that he’s bad. He’s actually really funny and great with the lines, but he comes off a little too young. Originally Anthony “Giles” Head was meant to play the role and he would have been stupendous. Damn guy was busy though.

So much of the film has a dreamy vibe to it. Everyone is intoxicated through most of it. That’s perfect because the entire mood of the movie is slightly buzzed. You’re not quite drunk, but you’re riding the tipsy train into sloshed station. Much of the play’s original shortcomings are also forgiven in this regard because so much of it can be explained away by saying, “They were almost drunk”.

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Overall a very enjoyable film. Even if you’re not a Shakespeare fan there’s a strong chance you’ll like it. The dialogue is placed in a context that is easy to grasp.

What a fun and nerdy movie.

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