California Literary Review

Much Ado About Joss Whedon

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March 8th, 2013 at 9:22 am

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Is Joss Whedon’s biggest year ever taking a second lap?

Technically, no, since his brassy new adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing made its premiere at the 2012 Toronto Film Festival. However, it is just now about to reach the wider world. Just as The Cabin In The Woods – Whedon’s polarizing co-progeny by director Drew Goddard – served its time in distribution hell cloaked in mystery, Much Ado has been deftly obscured from view up until the recent drop of its arresting trailer, prior to an upcoming US release.

Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing produced by Lionsgate

© 2012 Lionsgate

In addition to the aforementioned Cabin, Whedon forged a lasting bridge between hosts of niche nerds and the general populace in 2012 by penning and directing The Avengers, the long awaited and tremendously successful Marvel superhero crossover blockbuster. These are not the kinds of films that garner high-echelon awards, but their value as pop-culture currency is more than worth the sacrifice.

As a mainstream success who seems all too keen to hold onto his cult sensibilities, Whedon has unveiled yet another baffling and ambitious project. He is doing The Bard. And believe it or not, he is using the original dialogue. The overnight stir that his Much Ado trailer has caused indicates that, love it or hate it, people will be talking about it for some time.

Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof, of Whedon’s Buffy/Angel television stable, lead a cast of distinguished Shakespearean characters into all manner of misunderstanding, double-cross, intrigue and silliness. Whedon has gone full auteur as director, writer, producer, and apparently composer. John Carpenter must be proud, or may at least feel a little threatened. The big question, though, is what must noted Shakespeare enthusiast Sir Kenneth Branagh be thinking about all this?

There is a blurb in this trailer that declares Joss Whedon and William Shakespeare “a match made in heaven.” At first glance that seems like a half-cocked, overly effusive burst of joy at the charming novelty of this movie. However, on reflection it begins to seem like an apt and credible claim.

Without making rash comparisons between the legacy of one versus the other, there is a Shakespearean sense of invention in the way Whedon works. His writing is famously nuanced and imaginative. While not exactly the same kind of legendary wordsmith – not yet anyway – he has achieved a certain renown for coining catchy phrases. Meanwhile, how impressed we should rightfully be that the original Shakespeare is still sufficiently funny and racy to keep up with the runaway risqué antics of a modern sex comedy. That guy still holds up, whether or not the cast has opted for tights, and there seems to be no danger of period verisimilitude here.

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These actors may be quoting Shakespeare as written, but this is every inch a new interpretation. Not only is the setting contemporary, but the arch delivery can barely mask the mischievous smiles of the cast. Even though the plot is a classic and the jokes were written centuries ago, these people know they are pushing Shakespeare somewhere bold and weird. This movie appears loaded with innovation and allusion alike, from hints of Woody Allen in the frenetic pace to whispers of Baz Luhrmann in the lavish cheekiness. If this movie’s tone stays as exuberant and sparkly as its enticing black and white photography, we should all be in for an excellent ride.

Much Ado About Nothing is currently scheduled for release in the United States on June 7, 2013

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