Sunday, July 14, 2013

The summer's romantic hit

Shakespeare’s (I wanted to say Joss Whedon’s) Much Ado About Nothing, at the Birmingham 8, is a delightful hit, one of the best things on this summer. If you want romantic comedy just come and see this. But brush up on your Shakespeare first. Yes, this is The Bard’s Much Ado in all its Elizabethan prose, though set in contemporary southern California (shot in under two weeks at director Whedon’s Santa Monica mini-mansion). For Whedon fans (Buffy the Vampire Slayer and other TV series like Angel and Firefly) and last year’s The Avengers, this is a highly different departure. But it’s not surprising that the immensely-talented Whedon, who also wrote the superb score – incorporating music from Shakespeare himself - is up to the task. After all, he used to do Shakspeare readings in this very same home. The cast are all Whedon alumni with most having extensive movie and TV credits, and no doubt you’ll recognize many of them from somewhere. Adding to the magic is that this film is shot in black and white. Why did Whedon make it? He wanted to show how romantic love often takes place within society’s strictures. “It’s a very cynically romantic text about love, and how we behave, and how we’re expected to behave.” Of course romantic love 400 years ago was a little bit more straitjacketed than it is today. Much Ado is all about deception. The main story is about Beatrice (Amy Acker) and Benedick (Alexis Denisof) and the subsidiary romantic tale is about Claudio (Fran Kranz) and Hero (Jillian Morgese) though the latter’s marriage is the plot’s general focal point. The play opens with Beatrice and Benedick soon at odds with one another. And has there ever been a woman with such biting wit? I don’t think I’ve ever come across lines as withering as those Shakespeare installed in Beatrice’s character. What’s remarkable about the play is that Beatrice is a woman for the ages, a feminist heroine hundreds of years before her time, with a searingly modern vision. Acker is fine though I wish she could have been a little more biting. Denisof is a hoot as a very classy, if outwitted, romantic foil. The film even has a Big Chill (Lawrence Kasdan, 1983) element to it, as the friends gather over a few days and seem to do nothing but socialize in various groupings in and around the rambling house, constantly refilling their wine glasses. If you know the story, go. If you don’t, it’s worthwhile reading the text or even a synopsis, for doing so will compound this movie’s enjoyment.

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