The word “play” has its roots in Middle English and Middle Dutch words for moving about quickly, dancing, frolicking and making sport, including for a game or a drama. It has been used to refer to theatrical performances – particularly those that might make light – since the 14th century. This month’s film review, then, fittingly, is about a play that makes light.
Shakespeare’s comedic play Much Ado About Nothing was written around 1598 or 1599 and has been considered one of his best comedies as it also addresses serious concerns while still managing to end on a happy note. It tells of one couple brought together by rumor and gossip, and one almost divided by it. The word “nothing” in the title would at the time have been a homophone for the word “noting”, referring to empty or idle talk, banter, rumor, etc. So the play looks at how much power we can give to empty talk to take us off path. Yet, it’s done in a manner that is humorous and not without compassion for the foibles of the characters it portrays.
Joss Whedon, known best for his work on movies such as The Avengers and Serenity, and TV shows such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, produced a black-and-white film of Much Ado About Nothing over twelve days with actors he knew from his other projects: Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker from Angel, and Nathan Fillion and Sean Maher from Firefly and Serenity, to name a few. Whedon himself is gifted as a dialogue writer, and he animates Shakespeare’s Renaissance-era script in modern accents and impeccable timing. The banter sparkles and carries as much of Shakespeare’s often punny, subtle wordplay humor as it can to a modern audience. Denisof and Acker both deliver hilariously physical performances as well as handling Shakespeare’s sophisticated wordsmithing. When I watched the movie recently in Toronto, the entire audience was cracking up in laughter at their tumbles. Nathan Fillion’s inept and malapropism-prone constable Dogberry is in for his share of laughs too, slyly undoing the strong leadership character his Firefly audience is used to seeing from him.
I went to this movie for a sense of fun and escape. While I was laughing to the point of helplessness at many points, it didn’t seem to be a fully joyous and grounded laughter. A little like eating popcorn, the humor wasn’t especially filling, leaving me feeling a sense of lack as the story ended. If you go to see it for its comedic and theatric merits, keep this in mind. While it’s a stellar production in many ways, as soul food goes (and I think all art should be soul food) there is much ado but not much actually there.
Pranada Devi is a communications professional living in Toronto, Canada. She is the Managing Editor of Parvati Magazine, and serves as an advisor on marketing communications for Parvati’s various projects. Recently, she edited Parvati’s new book Confessions of a Former Yoga Junkie: From Type A to A-OK, which has gone on to sell out its first printing run.