Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Much Ado About Nothing (2013) **½

PG-13, 109 min.
Director: Joss Whedon
Writers: Joss Whedon, William Shakespeare (play)
Starring: Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Fran Kranz, Clark Gregg, Reed Diamond, Jillian Morgese, Sean Maher, Nathan Fillion, Spencer Treat Clark, Riki Lindhome, Ashley Johnson, Emma Bates, Tom Lenk, Nick Kocher, Brian McElhaney, Joshua Zar, Paul Meston, Romy Rosemont, Elsa Guillet-Chapuis

As an actor, I don’t often find myself drawing too much negatives to the performances in films. As an actor that specialized in Shakespeare, I might be a little tougher on the acting in a film based on one of Shakespeare’s plays.

For the most part, the performances by Company Whedon in the new film adaptation of Shakespeare’s comedy “Much Ado About Nothing” are surprisingly capable considering that most of the performers are not necessarily trained in Shakespeare. However, when one of the leading performances is the weak point in the casting, it can have a devastating effect on the final product. Alexis Denisof is just wrong for Benedick.

I’m not incredibly familiar with Denisof’s previous work, because *gasp* I still haven’t caught up on the Buffy/Angel phenomenon. I did read that he played Tybalt in a British television production of “Romeo & Juliet” early in his career. Tybalt seems a much better role for Denisof, who is just a little too sour to play Benedick, a character that should live with a lust for life, even in his catty showdown of words with the equally sharp-tongued Beatrice.

The black & white production looks great. The supporting cast it right on the money. Amy Acker gets a well-deserved shot at a lead with Beatrice and nails it. I’m not sure the setting is ever very well justified with the plot of Shakespeare’s play. But I suppose a house with a party is really all you need. It may not seem quite royal enough for some of the players, but so what. There are a few moments that are missed in terms of playing with the words and situations of Shakespeare, but it’s to be expected in a movie that must move at a different pace than a play.

I also would’ve liked to see two of the performers in opposite roles than they were given. Clark Gregg does a wonderful job as the patriarch of the house of the setting. Nathan Fillion embraces the comedy of the dimwitted constable Dogberry as well, but I think it would’ve been a little cleverer to switch the two. Fillion is made for the role of Leonato, with a hearty disposition to drive the events. Gregg on the other hand always plays the straight-laced authoritarian. It works for Leonato, but I think it would’ve been better to see him play against type as the buffoonish security captain. He often plays law enforcement officials, but also usually plays one of the smartest people in the room. It would’ve been fun to see him turn that image on its head and play a lawman without a clue.

That suggestion is really mostly out of personal curiosity. My real problem was Benedick, who was always just a little too moody than he should’ve been and rarely allowed me to believe that he believed in what he was doing or saying. He seems to mug for the camera a little too much. He's too casual with Shakespeare's rich language. Denisof may be a perfectly fine actor, but he didn’t work for me in this role. I spent most of the movie wishing he could’ve had the energy and enthusiasm as Kenneth Branagh in his 1993 film version of this play. It about ruined the entire production form me, but it is worth the watch for Shakespeare enthusiast.

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