I went to see this at the Embassy, in the main auditorium. My first plan had been to see it at the Roxy on Sunday, but that sold out. And shortly after my plan B, this one sold out. I heard that it’s gotten a general theatrical release, which is nice – better outcome than for Cabin in the Woods, which was a far more challenging film. The name Joss Whedon carries a lot of water these days: another billion-dollar grossing mega-blockbuster? Much Ado About Nothing could hardly be more different than The Avengers, and I imagine its box-office fate will be similarly understated.
Understated is the word. Filmed on a single set, Whedon’s own house, with only natural lighting, on black-and-white film, with a small number of non-diagetic musical interludes written by … Whedon. The cast are almost all ex-luminaries of Whedon’s other work, and so the fan audience will find everything safe, comfortable, familiar – intimate. And the story from Much Ado About Nothing is one of the original templates of the Romantic Comedy genre that seems ubiquitous in modern times, so that is similarly unthreatening. In many ways, if it were not already appropriated for something entirely different, I would use the term “fan service”. Perhaps in service to the fans is a better descriptor – there is hardly anyone I know who didn’t enjoy seeing the Whedon alumni being comedic. To that extent, it reminded me of MGM’s Grand Hotel – a film designed and billed as a galaxy of stars, where even the walk-on parts were well known actors.
This is another film that succeeds at least partially on the basis of obfuscating the problems it’s overcoming. These problems originate with Shakespeare’s script, because there have been epochal and tectonic changes in all aspects of theatre over the past 400 years; we could start with blank verse – the rhythm of it is important to some actors, not to others, so that most productions end up at least a little schizophrenic. Shakespeare is also happy to have a slightly higher level of contrivance than a modern audience is probably used to – there is a greater need for willing suspension of disbelief. Not insurmountable problems, but it’s sometimes frustrating to see a production that fails to even recognize them.
I would like to see this film succeed, and not just because it is as humorous as any other romantic comedy you might name for the past half-dozen years. I think that this film represents an example of film-making based on solid fundamentals. Get a great cast of great actors, get a script that’s good, tell a story first and foremost. The films that have disappointed me in recent times have generally failed in one of those fundamental ways, and tried to overcome whatever fundamental weakness through being spectacular. In almost every instance, I would have been happier with a heap less flash if it meant a bit more substance.
Having said all that, Much Ado About Nothing, is not a great film. It is a better-than-adequate film that shows quite well how much you can do with just the basics.