Though based on the famous Shakespeare play this article very much contain spoilers for Whedon's own vision of it. So beware.
Still under the influence of the intoxicating inspiration from the conversation with Joss Whedon, I decided to write something. Maybe it will be about his Much Ado About Nothing, or maybe just some general words about Joss Whedon that have probably been said and written before by many.
If you read my article about the theatre production of Much Ado About Nothing starring David Tennant and Catherine Tate, you probably already know that this is my favourite comedy by William Shakespeare and Beatrice is one of my all time favourite female characters. Therefore it should come as no surprise that when I managed to get tickets, not only to the preview screening, but also to a conversation with the king of geeks, I spontaneously combusted.
It is a testament of Shakespeare’s magnitude and the brilliancy of this play, that the three different productions I have seen to it are so different from one another. Whether it's the time period (80s in the theatre, unspecified in the Branagh film and nowadays in Whedon’s time) the place or the different delivery and acting, each version gives a different, sometimes opposite, meaning to the text and they are all certainly different to how one reads it.
To be completely honest I wasn’t sure about Whedon’s choice to cast Amy Acker as Beatrice. She always seems far too nice to be Beatrice, she is more of a Hero in my eyes than a Beatrice. True, she was really good as Illyria and seeing her as the villainess in Person of Interest changed my mind about her slightly and I can see how she can use her nice appearance to fool us, but she works for me better as nice and sweet than feisty and fiery. Her Beatrice was of course, different to the other Beatrices I know, Catherine Tate (my favourite) and Emma Thompson (a very close second) and I liked her. She fitted with Joss' interpretation of the play and was at her best, though I admit throughout the film I did often imagine Alison Hannigan/Denisof as Beatrice.
Alexis Denisof, too was a very different Benedick than Branagh's and Tannent's, but he was a particular joy to watch. Not just because he is simply far too hot for his own sake, in real life even more than on screen! Seriously how is he allowed to walk amongst us is beyond me, but also because he is really quite a fantastic actor and his delivery of Shakespeare is his own and it is superb.
Whedon's Benedick and Beatrice come with a baggage and though their past that is referred to in the text it can and has been interpreted in many ways and in Whedon's film it is more present than in the other productions. In the other productions the past is only hinted at and not necessarily referred to as a romantic past, which creates the impression that Beatrice and Benedick are seeing each other in different eyes for the first time. In Whedon's film they're relationship is already charged, they are in love already, but just don't know it. This could make some of their banter loaded bitterness between them rather than a product of their unique characters.
The decision to set Much Ado in current times is a bit problematic I think. It doesn't seem like Whedon’s Benedick and Claudio are soldiers, therefore perhaps it would have been better to drop the conversations about the war. Also it is hard for me to believe that in our day Beatrice would ask Benedick to kill Claudio, this honour killing is an idea from different times. Moreover why would a modern Beatrice wish she were a man and not simply do it herself, as some women would nowadays.
I am also not sure about the decision to make Conrad a woman. In the other interpretations Don John’s conversations with Conrad makes him come across as a closeted gay, which explains his anger, his hate and his feeling that he is a hidden secret. It makes his character more compelling, even quite likeable in the theatre version. While chiselled face Sean Maher is a perfect choice for Don John, it is hard to see from the film why is he so unlovable and an outcast and I had no feeling towards his character. It could have made his villainy perhaps more evil since it is seemingly without reason, however, to me Maher didn't feel like a real villain, more like a party pooper.
The most impressive achievement of Whedon’s Much Ado, is his Hero and Claudio. In most versions and honestly even when I read the play, Claudio and Hero are at best uninteresting to me and they are there simply as means to bring Beatrice and Benedick together and pass the time in between. However, with brilliant cast choices, the wonderful Fran Kranz and the compelling Jillian Morgese, Claudio and Hero’s story becomes heart-warming and sweet. For the first time my heart actually went to Hero at her hour of shame and I felt Claudio’s pain.
All in all, Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing is a bundle of fun. With a collection of fabulous and very much loved Whedon’s actors and friends let's be honest, speaking Shakespeare at each other in a beautiful house (Joss, I'm moving in!) with a beautiful view, mostly having fun and celebrating Shakespeare what could be bad about that? Nothing at all.
The look of the film, the style and the black & white are beautiful and indeed, as Whedon say, contribute to the noir feel of the film, the air of wealth and sophistication and spiced with hedonistic, jovial atmosphere. I wanted to be there and take part in their parties. The film seemed like it was great fun to make and the result was great fun to watch and I think it will awaken the love of Shakespeare where it needs to be awakened.
The cream underneath the cherry, for I have always was a fan of the cream more than the cherry, and definitely the highlight of the night was of course the inspiring conversation with Joss Whedon that followed after the film. As a long serving Whedon fan it is no surprise that Whedon has left quite an impression, but I was glad to discover that a friend who only knew part of his work has had a similar experience.
Joss Whedon is one of those rare men in Hollywood that has the sensitivity and the ability to create the most wonderful female characters in films and TV. It saddens me to say that more often than not Whedon’s female characters are better than some of the ones created by female creators in the industry (Sex and the City, I’m looking at you!) many of them often avoid female hero/lead in the first place. Why is it that in Hollywood men often portray better women, is a topic I’ve often threatened to write about.
When asked about whether he thought there will be a problem for men or boys to relate to female superhero, Joss replied, “Identification is human, not gender-based. The idea that boys won’t go to see female-based action movies is absurd” and he continued to say that boys can identify with a female lead the same way girls do with a male one. Whoever knows a thing or two about Buffy the Vampire Slayer, knows that Joss knows what he’s talking about.
Whedon's relaxed and casual manner, his simple but intelligent talk, his ideas and his love of Batman were some of the things that made me wish I could sit and talk to him for hours, but more importantly this experience gave me a push to write more and develop my own really cool ideas. So first here is my little article to start the fire... I hope this one will last.