Thursday, July 4, 2013

Not Much Ado About This Movie

So, Big Daddy and I went to the artsy-fartsy movie theater downtown last night to see the latest interpretation of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing.  This one was directed by Joss Whedon (who also directed 2012's Avengers, which I loved, and wrote for several hit TV shows like The Office and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, as well as writing Toy Story.)  He's got a pretty impressive résumé.  But I have to say, he made some strange choices for this production and most of them were misses for me.

Let's start with the story.  This is one of the thumbs up.  Whedon wrote the adaptation for this film and I think he did a good job of using the parts of the play that were most important and which kept the plot moving.  Everything was pretty clear (which is not always a given in a Shakespeare production) and there were no huge holes in the plot....other than why the Prince and his brother Don John were at odds and why Don John was under house arrest, but it's not terribly crucial to the story line, so I'll forgive it). 

Now the cast.  Well, if you've seen the 1993 Kenneth Branagh version, you'll know there were some pretty amazing performances that would be hard to compete with.  I think it would be very difficult, though possible with the right cast, to give that version a run for its money.  But this version's cast fell way WAY short.   There were two, maybe three, stand-out performances and the rest ranged somewhere between unimpressive and atrocious. 

Hero--ATROCIOUS.  Almost every line she gave was a throw-away...mumbled, spoken with zero enthusiasm, or utterly unintelligible (as in during her wedding rampage, which was more like a loud speed mumble.)  She should play a sweet, pure, utterly endearing love interest for Claudio.  But both her looks and her acting left me thinking, "WHY?"

Margaret--Milquetoast.  There's hardly anything to be said about her.  Her role is small but could be key to the plot if played well.  This was not played well and therefore seemed dispensable.

The Prince--meh. Not awful, but nothing stellar.

Leonato -- another so-so performance.  It didn't detract, but it certainly didn't add anything special to this production.

Conrade-- What the heck???  Whoever chose her should be fired.  Punched and then fired.

The saddest disappointment of all was definitely Benedick.  It was just so lackluster.  His looks were bland, his acting was bland. Not bad, just bland.  I know, I know, it's hard to fill Kenneth Branagh's shoes.  But he didn't even come close.   He was just dull.  No spark, no fire, no wit.   The lack of chemistry between him and Beatrice (see below) could have been salvaged if he had been twice the actor, but she just couldn't carry him alone.

Now to the good (ish) ones:

Claudio.  I think he was the only one in the entire production who played his part WELL.  He had fire, he had vim, he had passion.  It took a few scenes to come out, but once it did...well done!

Beatrice.  She was attractive, likable, intelligent, and played her role quite a bit differently than Emma Thompson did.  I was intrigued and excited to see how she would interpret this star character.  And she did alright.  She is a good actress.  But she didn't have the sharpness of wit and tongue like Emma did to make that incredible spark between herself and Benedick so captivating.  And her slapstick clumsiness felt forced.  In the end, I was left wanting more from her.

Don John.  Don John wins a place on the good list really by virtue of comparison only.  Since anything beats the Don John played by Ted, as in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, as in Keanu Reaves (who plays ALL rolls as Ted), I can't complain too much.  He seemed villainous and dark enough.

Friar Francis.  Perfect.  Classic.  A real acting job (the kind where you don't actually notice that the person is trying to act!  Hint hint, almost every one else in the cast.)

Borachio.  I liked him!  Aside from the fact that I spent the first 10 minutes after his entrance trying to remember where the heck I knew him from (he was the son in Unbreakable) , I really enjoyed his role.  He did a very good, believable job.  One of the best in the cast, in fact.

The comic duo of Dogberry and Verges.   Big Daddy and I laughed.  We laughed a lot at these two.  I'm not really sure if it was them we were laughing at or the memory of the incomparable Michael Keaton playing this role.  But there was some actual comedy here not detracted from by their acting in any way.

So on to my other comments:

1) THE BLACK AND WHITE!!!  :(  :(  :(      Why, oh, why did Whedon choose black and white?  I know there are certain genres of movies where black and white ups the artsy factor quite a bit, but this one was not a good fit. There were some would-be beautiful scenes of colorful wedding flowers, jeweled masquerade masks, amber and ruby liquids (from the almost non-stop drinking the characters do) with the sunlight streaming in through the windows.  ALL lost in the flatness of black and white.  Where usually artistic choices such as this quickly become familiar after a few minutes, I found myself wishing away the black and white through the WHOLE movie. 

2) Modern Day.  I did appreciate the more modern-day setting of this movie.  But most of its nuances were lost in the black and white, sad to say.

3) What was with all the booze?  Morning, literally, noon and night.  This movie must have been sponsored by Smirnoff and Southern Comfort. 

4) Beatrice and Benedick.  This is by far one of my favorite Shakespearean relationships.  You can really see the talent of the bard as these two dual with their wits and tongues.  The chemistry and sexual tension was nearly tangible in the 1993 version.  You couldn't wait for Beatrice and Benedick to finally realize that they loved each other.  But here the relationship was watery, the culmination of their pursuit of each other anti-climactic. 

So, in the end, it just was no comparison to the 1993 Kenneth Branagh version.  I wanted to like it.  I looked forward to a fresh, updated interpretation of it.  But this movie goes to show that sometimes being different just to be different does not pay off.


Erica said...

I saw a trailer for that version, and it just didn't say "spend money and see me!" to me. It looked bleh.

You know who would probably be really good as Benedick? That blonde skinny guy who would also make an excellent Mercutio that was the announcer fellow in whatever that weird jousting moving with Heath Ledger. I can't think of his name... my husband always figures out who I mean though, so maybe you will too. :D

Jen said...

I really liked it! Then again I didn't see the other version you are talking about so I have nothing to compare it to, but I still really liked it!

Omgirl said...

Erica, I totally know who you are talking about! He played Chaucer in Knights Tale. Paul Bettany. Yes, you're so right! He'd be perfect as Benedick!