So, I went up to the Toronto International Film Festival today, to see the last screening of Joss Whedon’s “Much Ado About Nothing,” and I loved it. I’d recommend it to anybody, whether they be a fan of Joss Whedon, Shakespeare, both, or neither. But I’m going to direct most of what I have to say in this post to anybody who might be in the same boat as I was coming in:
- No familiarity with this specific play. I knew that it was Shakespeare, and I’ve read and seen around a dozen Shakespeare plays, but ‘Much Ado’ wasn’t on the list until today.
- Some familiarity with recent popular television shows and/or blockbuster movies. (I don’t think you’ll have to have seen anything by Joss for this to make sense.)
- Not much familiarity with typical ‘festival films’, as such.
There are a few things that struck me about the movie that I’ll mention by way of introduction. It’s in black and white, and most of the dialog is in the traditional Shakespearean mode, though I suspect there are very small moments where it was updated for clarity. That was very jarring for me at the start, but I found myself getting used to it very quickly.
There was also a kinduv cool dissonance between the medieval/Renaissance aspects of the script, and the modern setting Joss puts it in. The characters are still Italian lords and ladies who have just returned from a war, but they drive around in cars and play music on ipods. (The ipod got a huge laugh from the audience the first time.) To intimidate someone before challenging a duel, Benedick shows a gun in a shoulder holster instead of gesturing to a sword at his hip.
I found it a little hard to keep track of the cast of characters, so for anybody who’s interested, I’ll share a quick rundown, along with hints about where you might have seen these faces before. More or less in order of appearance:
Benedick is a gentleman, soldier, and confirmed bachelor. The movie opens on a wordless scene of Benedick dressing and leaving Beatrice’s room as she sleeps. He vows to never get married or fall in love, and has nothing but scorn for men who do. He’s very witty and is well regarded for his sense of humor, and trades all kinds of verbal jabs and spars with Beatrice whenever they run into each other. He has recently served in a war on the side of Prince Pedro, who he’s close to. Benedick is played by Alexis Denisof, well-known for playing Wesley on ‘Angel’ and Sandy Rivers on ‘How I met your mother.’