Joss Whedon is one of a few creative professionals for whom I am a complete devotee. I want to consume every product he puts out there and am very rarely disappointed. I added this to my must-see list immediately, and was thrilled to get tickets. Even the final showing was packed to the rafters. It seemed like a film that could really go either way from successful to embarrassing, but I like everyone else there was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.
The presenter riled up the crowd by name-dropping previous Whedon works (Firefly of course getting the biggest cheers). An older woman turned to her friend and with some mild disdain said of the crowd, “I doubt they know that this is Shakespeare. I’m sure they’re in for a big surprise!” Well, I hope she was in turn surprised by how warmly Much Ado was received.
Fundamentally Much Ado is an hilarious story. Shakespeare was of course a master of comedy, and his stories can translate in the modern day with ease. Of course we’ve had adaptations before that had varying success. 10 Things I Hate About You went full-modern while Romeo + Juliet played with a mix of new and classic. Joss’s movie hits another notch in between. Filmed at his house (in apparently only 12 days) it has a current setting while they stuck with the original dialogue. A worthy challenge to any actor, and one they all tackled whole-heartedly. Joss called once again on his team of regulars to fill the roles and there is such an obvious mutual trust between cast and director that it comes across as real and never forced. I wasn’t as familiar with Much Ado as with most of Shakespeare’s other work, but I have a genuine new appreciation for it now. On paper it is pretty funny, but the cast brought it up to truly hilarious. Alexis Denisof doing a barrel-roll is an image that still makes me giggle.
I don’t know what possessed him to do a modern version of Much Ado, but it was a success. I wish I could have seen it earlier in the festival when Joss was still in town. Q&As annoy me more and more these days due the general stupidity of the questions, but I love hearing directors talk about their projects. I’m sure he would have had plenty interesting things to say about this one.