I have been suffering from an epic case of writer’s block recently, and so my whole big essay on The Year 2013 As Brought To Us By Joss Whedon has by necessity been shelved. I wish some personal hero would just swoop into town and give me an impromptu seminar on overcoming writers block! But alas, my block continues apace, leaving me with few words with which to work and little inspiration. And so, in the interest of brevity and to-the-pointiness, I’m just picking my one most favorite Joss Whedon thing of the year 2013 to write about. And my one most favorite thing is Much Ado About Nothing, Joss Whedon’s film adaptation of the play by William Shakespeare.
I remember being so excited when I heard that right after wrapping The Avengers, Joss had taken twelve days and shot a film in secret. That it was Much Ado About Nothing seemed the perfect antidote to the over-the-top mainstreaminess of Marvel. That it was shot on a micro-budget right after the box office smashing of The Avengers was also beautiful. I had not lost Joss to the world of big money and 3-D as I had often feared. Here he was, right at home.
Much Ado was actually shot in Joss’ home (except for one scene, shot in his office bungalow.) It is a large, beautiful, inviting house that seems to have been designed specifically for this movie. In fact, Kai Cole (Joss’ wife, an architect) had Shakespeare on the brain when designing and building it. For years, Joss had been hosting weekly Shakespeare readings, where he and his friends would gather at his home to perform the Bard and enjoy cheese. Shakespeare was as much a consideration in the design as the people who would live and gather in the house. As a result, their home features a living room stage, a beautiful outdoor balcony and a backyard amphitheater, in addition to functional necessities such as recording and dance studios.
Much Ado was produced by Bellwether Pictures, a company that Joss and Kai created in order to make micro-budget films such as Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. They wanted to create things without commercial backers so that their art would be pure, they could say what they wanted to say, and they’d not be beholden to commercial interests. This ethic really came through in Dr. Horrible, which was a labor of love on the part of all involved. It also comes through in Much Ado.
The cast is made up of the usual suspects: Whedon alums Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Reed Diamond, Fran Kranz, Sean Maher, Clark Gregg, Nathian Fillion, Tom Lenk, and Ashley Johnson (who appeared in The Avengers and Dollhouse) as well as some newbies including Jillian Morgese, Riki Lindhome, Spencer Treat Clark, Emma Bates and Romy Rosemont.
As for the score, Joss Whedon wrote it himself, getting some help with orchestration. He created all the themes and added music to the song “Sigh No More” (sung by Balthazar in the original Shakespeare, sung by Maurissa Tancharoen in this film.) The music is really beautiful and fits the movie perfectly. I am continually impressed by the musicality of Joss.
I have watched Much Ado at least five times now. (Hot tip: it really helps to watch with the English subtitles on. The funny thing is that the Shakespeare sounds a lot like the demons and other villains from Buffy and Angel. Now I can’t watch the villains in those shows without thinking of the Bard.) I appreciate it more with each viewing, which I can’t say for all of Joss’ works (The Avengers, for example, does not hold up to that fifth viewing, especially without the 3-D.) The only thing that took a while to grow on me was the fade-to-whites between scenes. Joss chose fade-to-white in order to avoid the hated fade-to-black, but I’m not entirely sure that it works, as I am very conscious of it. But maybe it’s just me.
In any case, the film is a frolicky romp with dark undertones. It was the perfect film for Joss to make and he made it perfectly. I hope it will win plenty of awards when the time rolls around. But the best thing of all is that Fred and Wesley finally got their day. Their love was cut tragically short on Angel. Here, Fred and Wesley are reincarnated as Beatrice and Benedick, and after a whole lot of denying their love for one another, they finally give in and have their happy ending. Yay!