The story of this most recent version of Much Ado About Nothing has now entered into the realm of cinematic myth; director Joss Whedon, hot off the biggest directing gig of his life (although at this point he didn’t know quite how big The Avengers would be) decided to relax by inviting his old mates round and filming a modern day adaptation of the popular Shakespeare comedy. The immediate result is the impression that Joss Whedon has a really nice house. The second result is a film that feels carefree and spontaneous which makes a refreshing change from any number of po-faced versions of the Bard’s work that often miss out on the comic aspects of his writing.
Whedon is an ideal fit to adapt Shakespeare as the witty repartee he has become famous for is clearly lifted from the pages of a well-thumbed ‘Complete Works’. Mal and Inara from Firefly are just space-cowboy parallels of Beatrice and Benedick, while Dr Horrible’s Singalong Blog has overtones of a Shakespearian tragedy, if seen from a certain angle. So he brings a certain familiarity to the material here, which is essential to make the language seem natural in a modern setting. Most of the cast seem to get this, too, and deliver their lines not only as if they are confident in their meaning, but also with a clarity that means newcomers can enjoy it, too.
It’s almost a shame that given Whedon’s clear aptitude at adapting Shakespeare he chose Much Ado as his first film of the great playwright’s work. Firstly because Kenneth Branagh has already done it very well, and his shadow lingers over this version. Jazz and guns aside, this doesn’t offer much that is new. Also, however, it is one of the stories that doesn’t suit the modern setting quite so well. An obsession with virginity, weird flirting techniques involving asking people out on the behalf of others and the utterly mental ‘hidden twin’ subplot jar with the contemporary update of the setting. Whilst the jazzy, infectious vibe of the film is immensely charming, the modern world means that the film flusters and struggles in the more dramatic moments, which make more sense in a historical context.