Joss Whedon, the modern sci-fi legend known best for directing last year’s action-packed blockbuster The Avengers, is not the kind of person I would expect to direct a Shakespearean adaptation—much less do it well. But that’s exactly what he does with Much Ado About Nothing, which was released in theaters June 7th. Whedon’s adaptation of this classic Shakespeare comedy is exceptionally well-done while still holding true to some of Whedon’s unique direction techniques.
The movie starts out somewhat awkwardly—or perhaps it just takes a short while to get used to the Shakespearean vernacular. Whedon made the somewhat risky choice of holding true to the original script, which, in turn, makes the acting seem less natural at first for modern audiences. But the actors seem to understand this, using subtle yet powerful body language, facial expressions, and inflections on their words to portray Shakespeare’s brilliant humor in a way that modern audiences can easily comprehend and enjoy.
This film also confirmed my suspicion that Joss Whedon loves utilizing mirrors and reflections in his films. Fans of The Avengers and other recent works by Whedon may have already noticed the director’s use of reflections to put a creative spin on a typical over-the-shoulder dialogue shot (see, for example, the first time Natasha Romanoff and Bruce Banner meet in The Avengers). That technique is not unique to Whedon’s sci-fi films; reflections are used in many shots during Much Ado About Nothing, for dialogue shots and even for visual framing. Whedon’s consistent use of this type of shot, regardless of the film’s genre, could become his signature.
Interestingly enough, though unique direction and cinematographic techniques are heavily employed, the film still feels a lot like watching a live performance of the play. Several times throughout the film, the actors break the “fourth wall” by looking and speaking directly to the audience. The most notable and curious instance comes from the wedding photographer, who has no lines and really plays no importance to the story except in the way she makes the film feel like a performance. In one short cutaway shot, the photographer seems to look directly through the screen to take a photograph of the audience. This moment, though somewhat unsettling, serves its purpose of reminding viewers of the origins of this story: live theater.
Altogether I believe Whedon has done a great job in demonstrating how his personal style of direction can be very versatile. Whether the project he’s directing is action, sci-fi, thriller, or classic Shakespearean comedy, Whedon is able to tell a story creatively and with a great sense of humor (always a crowd pleaser!). Though I would not have expected it, Joss Whedon ended up being a great choice for the director of Much Ado About Nothing.
Note: Between classes and work, I’ve had very little time to write this review. I apologize for the lateness! If you’d like to see Much Ado About Nothing (which I recommend you do!), make sure you see it soon, before it’s out of theaters. It does not seem to be playing at most of the more commercial theaters, so check your smaller local theaters for times.