Do you remember those old Judy Garland and Micky Rooney movies, like Strike Up the Band and Babes on Broadway?
Whenever Mickey and Judy got themselves into a jam or for almost any reason, they would gather together the neighborhood kids and put on a show. Somehow a bunch of teenagers managed to put on a Busby Berkley-like show, in somebody’s old barn, complete with costumes, a band and elaborately choreographed musical numbers.
That’s kind of what director, Joss Whedon did with Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. He invited a few friends over for ‘the weekend’ and made a movie.
How does that happen? If you are Joss Whedon you invite your buddy Nathan Fillion, gal pal, Amy Akerman and a few others over for dinner.
After a few glasses of wine and a couple of games of Card Against Humanity, you get bored and say “Let’s Make a Movie!”
That’s right, Joss Whedon, the man behind Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, Firefly and Marvel’s The Avengers made a black and white version of Much Ado About Nothing, in full Shakespearean verse.
Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing is set in the modern day, in California in Whedon’s Santa Monica home.
The cast includes some of his favorite actors from previous projects, like Nathan Fillion (Castle, Firefly) as Dogberry, Amy Akerman (Person of Interest, Angel) as Beatrice, Alexis Denisof (Angel) as Benedick, Clark Gregg (Ironman, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D) as Leonato and Sean Maher (Firefly) as Don John.
Other cast members include Reed Diamond as Don Pedro, Fran Kranz as Claudio and Jillian Morgese as Hero.
A Love Story with Hey ‘Nonni Nonni’
In this modern-day version of Shakespeare’s best romantic comedy, Leonato, the governor of Messina receives a visit from a powerful friend, Don Pedro. He brings along his security officers, Benedick and Claudio to keep watch over his scheming brother, Don John who is under house arrest.
While there, Claudio falls in love with Leonato’s daughter, Hero. Benedick and Beatrice, who apparently had a previous affair, fling verbal barbs at one another that only Shakespeare could write.
A dear happiness to women: they would else have been troubled with a pernicious suitor. I thank God and my cold blood, I am of your humour for that: I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me.” –Beatrice
“If her breath were as terrible as her terminations, there were no
living near her; she would infect to the north star.”
“Good Lord for alliance! Thus goes everyone to the world but I, and I am sunburnt; I may sit in a corner and cry ‘heigh-ho!’ for a husband.” — Beatrice
Don Pedro decides to have a little fun with Benedick and Beatrice. Along with Claudio, Hero, and Leonato, they play a practical joke on the feuding couple designed to make them fall in love. But the sibling rivalry between Don Pedro and Don John rears its ugly head. Don John devises a plot to ruin the wedding and generally cause trouble for everyone.
“I had rather be a canker in a hedge than a rose in his grace; and it better fits my blood to be disdained of all than to fashion a carriage to rob love from any: in this, though I cannot be said to be a flattering honest man, it must not be denied but I am a plain-dealing villain. I am trusted with a muzzle and enfranchised with a clog; therefore I have decreed not to sing in my cage. If I had my mouth, I would bite; if I had my liberty, I would do my liking: in the meantime, let me be that I am, and seek not to alter me.” –Don John
The plot and the characters are intricate, with a series of comic events happening before the wedding. But Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing is beautifully filmed in black and white. The actors deliver their lines with such humor and passion, you would think they speak iambic pentameter every day.
Denzel in Blue Leather Pants
After watching Joss Whedon’s movie, I couldn’t help but think of Kenneth Branagh’s Much Ado about Nothing (1993), starring Denzel Washington as Don Pedro.
The all-star cast features Branagh as Benedick and his then wife, Emma Thompson as Beatrice. A very young Robert Sean Leonard starred as Claudio, with an even younger Kate Beckinsale as Hero. Keanu Reeves rounds out the cast as Don John.
Watch both versions of Much Ado about Nothing and let me know which movie you like the best.