Greetings, my fellow port swillers!
The other evening, ol’ Robbo looked into the first of the DVD’s recently recommended to him by friends of the decanter, namely Joss Whedon’s 2012 take on the Bard’s “Much Ado About Nothing”.
I gather from the notes that this was a sort of vanity project of Whedon’s, a long-standing idea that first manifested itself in some informal group readings and eventually became literally a home movie, as it was shot at his own house. I suppose I found that novelty somewhat interesting, but I find it hard to believe that anyone would view this movie as a serious performance of the piece.
First of all, I believe Whedon’s decision to set the film in contemporary Santa Monica with a cast of contemporary Hollywood types proves fatal. The first order of biznay in dealing with Shakespeare effectively is to get us out of our own world and into the one he creates. This is done most effectively in three possible ways: Setting the piece (stage, costumes, etc.) in the Bard’s own time; setting the piece in its own historickal context (this works best for the histories, obviously – Julius Caesar, Richard III, etc.); or setting the piece in some vague “Once Upon A Time” that can’t really be pinned down but is sufficiently far away from the here and now to engage our fantasy (Branagh did this pretty effectively in his version of “Much Ado”).
But southern California in 2012? One’s first instinct is to ask, “Why is everyone talking like that?” Archaic language does not do well in the present tense. (Nor do myriad anachronistic titles, addresses and the like. And as to Claudio trying to maintain his antiquated code of morality in O.C. Gomorrah? Fuggedaboudit!)
Second, I must say I really wasn’t impressed with any of the cast, all of whom seemed to play their roles like modern teevee characters instead of stage classics. (Indeed, when the dumb blond playing Conrad managed to turn “into” to “inna”, I laughed out loud.) I will say, once again going back to Branagh’s treatment, that Nathan Fillion did a better job than Michael Keaton with Dogberry, because Fillion properly played him as a bumbling idiot who’s had some hard knocks and desperately clings to any shred of respectability he can, instead of as a Beetlejuice-like lunatic. Whedon left in some of Dogberry’s lines that Branagh had cut which I think key to the character:
“Dost thou not suspect my place? Dost thou not suspect my years? O that he were here to write me down as ass! But, masters, remember that I am an ass; though it be not written down, yet forget not that I am an ass. No, thou villain, thou art full of piety, as shall be proved upon thee by good witness. I am a wise fellow, and which is more, an officer, and which is more, a householder, and which is more, as pretty a piece of flesh as any is in Messina, and one that knows the law, go to, and a rich fellow enough, go to, and a fellow that has had losses, and one that that two gowns, and every thing handsome about him!”
So all in all, although I’m glad I actually sat down and watched the film, I really didn’t much like it.
I’d give this film one bumper out of five.
Next up: “Coriolanus“.