Much Ado is Mucho Amazing

Movie Poster

I saw Joss Whedon’s “Much Ado About Nothing” over the weekend. It’s one of my favorite plays by Shakespeare so I was really looking forward to it. I was not disappointed. I’m a big fan of Kenneth Branagh’s version that came out in 1993 and Joss Whedon’s movie is just as good. I love the choices Whedon made. In fact, he blew my mind when he cast Conrade as a female role. The conversation between Don John and Conrade is done as foreplay and I couldn’t believe how sexual the language was in that situation. It was perfect, yet it never occurred to me how sexual it was when the scene was between two men. My mind exploded and it made me look at everything with a fresh eye.

My favorite scenes where when Benedict and Beatrice overheard the staged conversations where their friends spoke of how they were dying of love for one another. Beatrice, in particular, had me almost on the floor. Her perfect comedic timing and antics were a delight to watch. Benendict, too, did so much with his body language that he didn’t need to say anything.

The other change that makes this version rise a tad above Branagh’s for me was a tweak to Claudio’s character. It has always bothered me that Claudio could dismiss Hero’s death so easily because he thought her sullied. Then, when he finds out he was wrong, his sudden repentance never seemed sincere to me. Yes, I know I’m bringing a modern view of virginity and applying it to a 16th century culture, however, if you love someone one minute how sincere is your love if you can dismiss their death the next even if you believe them impure? What kind of person can switch their emotions so quickly? Only someone who doesn’t feel deeply. Consequently, I always felt Hero deserved better than Claudio at the end. Joss Whedon, however, fixed the problem for me by such a simple gesture. As Claudio and the Prince are leaving the wedding ceremony after having disgraced his intended, Hero faints. There is a commotion and Claudio hesitates. He starts to turn to go to her and the Prince grabs his arm and pulls him away. That was all I needed. I had to see that Claudio still cared for Hero and it was only his pride that was in the way. At the start of the later scene where Benedict challenges Claudio to a duel, Claudio comes in drunk and obviously in despair. He’s not over Hero. It’s eating away at him. In Kenneth Branagh’s version Claudio is joking around with the Prince. It was the wrong tone. It’s amazing how the choices of actors and directors sculpt the words and present the image they create. The same words in other hands can be so different. Movies and plays really are a collaborative medium.

Along those lines, I was listening to the director’s commentary on “The King’s Speech.” In the scene where Lionel and Bertie are preparing for his coronation and Bertie confronts Lionel with the fact he isn’t a doctor, the director talks about his fear that the scene would make the movie feel like it has a double climax, which is something you have to be aware of in books, too. It’s such an important moment in the film that it needed to be included, but the real climax had to be the speech at the outbreak of WWII. He said the solution was in the background music. By keeping the music light and fun at the end of the scene, it celebrated the relationship between the men and solidified their friendship. The respect each man had for the other was crucial to see but the music told the audience that this wasn’t the end—that these two men had further work to do together. Something bigger was coming.

I wonder if there will come a time when we routinely add background music to books? Or would writers be fools to allow someone else’s interpretation of our words to shape the reader’s experience? It would be easy to add music with ebooks, and has been done in a few cases. Will authors rely on music to create the emotion and sell a scene where words have had to suffice in the past? Will books become a collaborative effort? Well, this blog started off as a movie review and changed direction into speculating about books. Still, I think I’ll leave my ramblings in place and see what other people think. Do you want to hear music while you’re reading the next Janet Evanovich, J.K. Rowling, or James Patterson?

To conclude, let me bring it back to Joss Whedon. I commend his effort to bring quality, low-budget films to today’s audiences. He shot the movie in 12 days at his Santa Monica home. When you have great material, a strong cast, and a fresh approach to story-telling, you can work magic without blowing up a city block or including an alien/zombie invasion. I look forward to seeing what he does next.

3 Comments

  1. This is a wonderful review, Anna-Maria! I’m so impressed by your analysis and the comparisons you made with the Branagh version. I think you’re absolutely right about that little look-back on Claudio’s part–it made all the difference.

    I don’t want a soundtrack while I’m reading. I think it would be too distracting. I sometimes use music to set the mood for writing, and of course a movie wouldn’t work without it.

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  2. I too loved this version of one of my favorite Shakespeare plays, and I also feel like it might have edged out Branagh’s brilliant and delightful version. I definitely want them both in my DVD collection, to be watched and savored again and again.

    The only quibble I had, and perhaps this will change on a repeat view, is that by opening with Beatrice and Benedick’s intimacy, it felt like that occurred recently, when Beatrice’s words to the Prince make it seem that their “exchange of hearts” if you will occurred quite a while ago. If it was recent, it does seem to lessen the accomplishment of the “only love gods” in bringing them together.

    In addition to your astute observation about the subtle difference in Claudio’s response to Hero’s death, this film also demonstrates what a difference the choice of words — which ones Whedon kept in and left out, versus Branagh — does to a finished work. Whedon’s version is much more about women, their rights, needs and choices, not only due to his casting and directing choices, but also due to which words and scenes he put in or took out.

    We could go on for hours, couldn’t we? 🙂

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  3. Hero’s and Claudio’s relationship is the device that drives the plot but it’s not what the story is about. It’s a frame for the action so that we can judge Benedict’s view of love and commitment and his actions vs. Claudio. The whole play is a study in contrasts. Don John vs the Prince, Benedict vs Claudio, the pure Hero vs the hedonistic Margaret. That’s what makes it so much fun.

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