Thursday, June 20, 2013

A breezy 'Much Ado' in Santa Monica

A happy summer diversion brings Shakespeare to life in contemporary garb.
Director Joss Whedon may not be a lightweight, but he's sure light on his feet.

Known for a popular television series (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and for equally mainstream big-screen entertainments such as Marvel's The Avengers), Whedon demonstrates an engagingly nimble touch in his filmed version of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing.

Whedon's Much Ado -- filmed in black-and-white during 10 days at his Santa Monica home -- serves as a welcome tonic in a summer already laden with booming explosions and numbing helpings of CGI.

A strong cast gives Shakespeare's language a comfortable American accent, and Whedon is keenly alert to the clownish possibilities in Shakespeare's play about a group of nobles searching for love -- or, in some cases, professing a desire to avoid it at any cost.

Employing an agile camera, Whedon swaddles Shakespeare's play in an atmosphere of contemporary affluence. A Santa Monica setting projects a sense of worldly accomplishment and personal well-being. Whedon may not entirely convince us of the appropriateness of this location for Shakespeare's nobles, but he obtains fine and diverting performances from a cast composed of actors with whom he has worked during his television career.

Love and possibilities for marriage fill the air, tempered -- of course -- by intrigue and the kind of abundant misunderstanding that results from wanton eavesdropping.

Here's my very sketchy plot summary: Claudio (Fran Kranz) becomes engaged to Hero (Jillian Morgese), daughter of Leonato (Clark Gregg). The wedding is to take place under the rule of Don Pedro of Messina (Reed Diamond).

Meanwhile, Don Pedro's duplicitous brother Don John (Sean Maher) schemes to break up the lovers at their wedding, where one of Don John's henchmen will slander Hero's virtue.

And then there's Beatrice (a luminous and smart Amy Acker), who expresses nothing but disdain for love, as does the cynical Benedick (Alexis Denisof). Reversals abound, so it's a sure bet that the love-averse posturing of Benedick and Beatrice will push them together.

Substantial comic relief is provided by Nathan Fillon, familiar from lots of TV and from the movie Serenity), which Whedon wrote and directed. Fillon's Dogberry functions as Messina's top cop.

Whedon's Much Ado may not change your life, but it should bring a welcome smile to your face: The movie transpires in an atmosphere of informality and fun -- and, of course, benefits from the enrichment provided by Shakespeare's language. The Bard never saw a movie, but he knew more about creating an image than most writers before or since.

Small surprise, then, that when Much Ado is clicking -- which is often -- it's a genuinely superior amusement.

No comments: