With every exchange between the fencing lovers, the abyss glitters, and their mutual wit does not so much defend against other selves as it defends against meaninglessness. They make much ado about nothing because they know that nothing will come of nothing, and so they speak again.
–Harold Bloom, Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human
When Joss Whedon (of Buffy and the Vampire Slayer fame) put the bard on screen, he recreated Shakespeare and in doing so, he fashioned a sexy, comic and delightful tribute to the art of moviemaking. His version of Much Ado About Nothing was shot in black and white on the property of his own California mansion. What is so spot-on is the sound of it: all of the intonations of contemporary American (Californian?) English, which is often flat and sarcastic yet also giddy and seductive.
All of the gruff, clean-cut men in the film wear beautiful suits out of a film noir and speak the lines of Shakespeare’s comedy as if every syllable contained a payoff. Are they gentlemen of Messina circa 1600 or modern-day businessmen eagerly upbraiding one another?
The film has elements of a screwball comedy and it’s easy to fall for its stars–Beatrice (Amy Acker) and Benedick (Alexis Denisof)–as they face off with mouthfuls of witty repartee and perform physical gags. (In one scene, Benedick putters around Beatrice like a proud peacock while he goes through his exercise routine; in another, she crashes down the stairs at the mention of his name.)
A few times I thought of the decadent late-night revelers of La Dolce Vita with their masks in the party scene. What’s more, the conniving character of Conrade, who is a tall blonde in Whedon’s film, reminds me of the Scandinavian model that appears in Fellini’s masterpiece with her sixties chic and the disembodied way she delivers her lines.
The film is so visually pleasing and each crisp shot whets the appetite for the next, while the characters skirmish and make up and pour yet one more glass of wine…In the end, Much Ado About Nothing relishes the uncertainties and the surprises in love. What to do but get thee a spouse?