I cannot tell you how lovely this movie was. I was not quite sure what to expect because I’ve never seen Whedon do Shakespeare. Victorian era, sure, but a modern version of Shakespeare? I had complete confidence in his abilities, but I’ve never been seriously into Shakespeare, and I’d never read or seen this particular play, so I didn’t even really know what the story was about.
Fair warning: I’m going to nerd out here and get into some pretty intricate fangirl shit, so keep up.
Also, since this is Shakespeare, I’m not putting any spoiler warnings. If you don’t know the story, it’s pretty predictable, and it’s not like you’d have been surprised by any of the plot developments if you haven’t seen the play or the movie.
I would say that for me, and probably for most #Whedony fans, the cast was by far the most enjoyable part of the film. Seeing so many familiar faces and especially actors that haven’t been seen together in years was incredible. For me, as I think for many other Angel fans, seeing Alexis Denisof as Benedick and Amy Acker as Beatrice was perfection. They both disappeared into their characters, and spoke Shakespeare like a couple of pros, but seeing Wesley and Fred reunited, even if it was as Benedick and Beatrice, was worth it alone.
From the beginning, it’s easy to see why they’re perfect for each other. They have the same sense of humor, and are both quick to come up with a response to any remark. But it’s another hate-each-other-first-then-fall-in-love story, so it takes a little trickery and manipulation on the parts of their friends and family to get them to see their true feelings for each other.
I actually had a couple of surprises when I got in, with Reed Diamond as Don Pedro and Tom Lenk as Verges. I’ve gotten used to seeing Diamond on Franklin and Bash, so to see him return in a Whedon film was a wonderful surprise. And he was incredibly funny, which he doesn’t always get to be (Dollhouse fans know this), so having him in such a playful role was so much fun.
And then, Tom Lenk is always a character, so you’re pretty much guaranteed a laugh with him in the mix. He didn’t have many lines, but watching him play off Nathan Fillion was a treat, and they both made the most of the body language and physical acting when they were on-screen even if they didn’t have any lines at the moment.
Seeing Sean Maher as a villain was so much fun. He was such a goodie-goodie in Firefly, to see him play the calculating and mean-spirited Don John was such a twisty, entertaining change of pace.
Again, I’m not a Shakespeare expert, so the dialogue was a little tricky for me to follow at times, but the actors’ expressions and gestures made it easy enough to figure what was going on, so we can overlook that. There were some really awesome quippy lines and the banter between Beatrice and Benedick was perfection, but people who knew the original play already would know this.
The best performance I would say, outside of four “main” characters (Benedick, Beatrice, Hero, and Claudio) was from Leonato, our dear friend Clark Gregg (The Avengers). Not exactly a guy you’d expect to see doing Shakespeare, but he did so brilliantly.
Any Whedon fans are probably ready to bash my head in by now because I haven’t mentioned Fran Kranz. I haven’t forgotten! Kranz plays Claudio, the smitten young count who falls in love with Hero, and mistakenly accuses her of infidelity later on. It was a slightly different type of role for Kranz as well – for once, he’s not the smartest guy in the room, and he’s also not the comic relief as much as some of the other characters are. Even outside his familiar surroundings, speaking Shakespeare, he’s wonderful, entertaining, and classically himself.
Knowing Whedon as we do, it was strange to see him do a comedy (in the traditional meaning of the word, we all know Joss does funny, sarcasm, and irony very well). Nobody dies! Hero fake-dies, but that doesn’t really count. It’s not a gut-wrenching tearful death as we are so used to from his stories.
The setting is mainly at the house of Leonato, and the modernization comes primarily in setting and props than anything else. Cell phones, wine glasses, dresses and suits, and running shoes. Though it is a modern setting, Whedon chose to film it in black and white. I think it goes a long way to preserving the mindset of it being a classic Shakespearean play. Color would have made the language seem false against the modern setting, I think, and black and white cries nostalgia, both in cinema, and for fans seeing so many of their favorite actors again.
The only thing that struck me a little odd and noticeable in a somewhat negative way was the drinking. It was like Mad Men or a forties detective movie, constantly with the pouring drinks, pouring wine, just to have something to hold between lines. I’m sure that a familiar performance technique in Shakespeare, but here it just seemed a little out of period. Minor, minor complaint, but I had to bring it up because it was so frequent and obvious to me.
I was so worried I was going to be late, but I got there JUST as the movie started! I’m so glad I didn’t miss a minute of it, because it was just lovely. Like I said, I can’t begin to explain how much I enjoyed this movie. Do yourself a favor, Whedon fan or not, and see this. If you like old movies, classic movies, or Shakespeare, this is reminiscent and nostalgic of all three.
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