“I love you with so much of my heart that none is left to protest,” says Beatrice (Amy Acker), late in Joss Whedon’s wondrous “Much Ado About Nothing,” as she gazes at her true love and former sparring partner, Benedick (Alexis Denisof). It’s a beautiful line, one of many that remind us that nobody spoke the language of the heart quite like Shakespeare. Though Whedon’s trimmed the play down, to make it an appropriate movie length, he’s kept the dialogue intact, and the pleasure the cast gets in saying the lines is palpable.
Whedon famously shot the film in 12 days, at his own house, using a cast of friends — and would that all house parties could look this good. Filmed in elegant black-and-white, with the cast in contemporary dress and the house looking like a real family lives there (one scene takes place in front of a Barbie doll house), it’s a merry, occasionally dark romp. Acker and Denisof have a wickedly sparkling chemistry; watch as, during one scene, he elaborately works out in front of her. (“You take pleasure, then, in the message?” he purrs, knowing she’s checking him out.) Fran Kranz and newcomer Jillian Morgese are sweet as secondary lovers Claudio and Hero, and Nathan Fillion has a ball as the not-so-swift cop Dogberry.
The cast is wise in the way of pratfalls (I loved Acker’s tiny “ow” after a fall), and in delivering Elizabethan language in a way that’s smooth and fresh, with only the occasional wink. (“Let us obey you to go with us,” says a watchman, looking confused.) It’s all great fun, and love of course eventually conquers all. “A miracle! Here’s our own hands against our hearts,” says Benedick, shown written evidence of Beatrice’s love. “Much Ado,” in its small-scale way, is a miracle, too.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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