Starring: Alexis Denisof, Amy Acker, Nathan Fillion
You may like this if you like: Much Ado About Nothing (Kenneth Branagh, 1993), 10 Things I Hate About You (Gil Junger, 1999), Romeo + Juliet (Baz Luhrmann, 1996)
This is basically the classic Shakespeare comedy, in a modern day setting but maintaining the original Bard dialogue. We all know the story, as it follows Benedick (Denisof) and Beatrice (Acker), the two apparent complete opposites of each other that are then tricked into thinking that the other is in fact in love with them. Meanwhile, the villainous Don John (Sean Maher) plots to ruin the wedding of Claudio (Fran Kanz) and Hero (Jilian Morgese).
Joss Whedon is certainly another one of these directors that can do no wrong at the moment, but in my view has produced an extremely enjoyable update. An update that I personally think can be enjoyed by Bard connoisseurs, GSCE English students and multiplex goers. Though it is by no means breathtaking, and perhaps not demanding repeat viewing, as a one off watch it is undeniably entertaining. Filmed in secret over 12 days solely in his own mansion, Whedon has basically got as many mates from his previous TV shows as possible that were available to make this. There was always a risk this would come across as a little smug, but thankfully Whedon avoids all that. The cast look like they are thoroughly enjoying themselves and this comes across clearly on screen making it impossible for the audience to not enjoy themselves too.
For me one of the reasons this works so well is that not only are the cast blatantly having tremendous fun, but they are all on top form. Their laid back delivery of the dialogue makes it feel like you are simply watching an intimate and extremely good production of the play. Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker are incredibly watchable as Benedick and Beatrice respectively, providing spot on comic timing. The best casting move of Whedon was to get Nathan Fillion as the bumbling Dogberry, it is a role perfectly suited to Fillion’s trademark deadpan delivery.
Not only is the farcical dialogue delivered with laid back precision, but Whedon and his mates have a great eye for visual gags. They add to the farce and certainly add to the undeniable feeling of fun. The modern setting and use of security cameras, smart phones and every one wearing sharp suits does verge on gimmicky, but when the film is so much fun, that is perfectly forgivable.
Whedon and his TV series cohort keep the emphasis on laid back fun, to produce an entertaining and genuinely funny Bard adaptation that manages to keep viewers from all perspectives happy.