Making the Grades
Director Joss Whedon didn’t just stay close to home to film his adaptation of Shakespeare’s play Much Ado About Nothing. He actually stayed home. The modernized black and white story of bickering lovers and tender young love was shot in Whedon’s Santa Monica, California house that was designed by his architect wife Kai Cole. Many of the cast members have worked with Whedon on past projects.
The film opens with the arrival of Don Pedro (Reed Diamond) and his two officers Benedick (Alexis Denisof) and Claudio (Fran Kranz) at the residence of his friend Leonato (Clark Gregg). Don Pedro has also brought along his younger brother Don John (Sean Maher) who has been creating problems for his older sibling. Their wealthy host spares no expense when it comes to providing ample amounts of alcohol to his visitors. And they do their part to make sure his liquor reserves are adequately drained.
But drinking isn’t all these characters have on their minds. Claudio is smitten with Leonato’s only daughter Hero (Jillian Morgese). With the help of Don Pedro, Claudio earns the affections of the young woman and proposes marriage. Meanwhile Leonato’s niece, Beatrice (Amy Acker), and Don Pedro’s officer, Benedick, engage in a savage verbal battle of barbs and bitter words. Each tries to make the most disparaging remarks they can muster at the expense of the other. But their friends believe there is something behind all the nasty jabs. After Claudio and Hero announce their upcoming nuptials, Don Pedro designs a plot to get the professed bachelor and the sharp-tongued single woman to fall in love.
Unfortunately his brother Don John is up to something as well. He plans to interrupt the approaching marriage ceremony by staging an illicit tryst between one of his men and a maid disguised at Hero. When Claudio is shown the damaging evidence of his bride’s supposed unfaithfulness, he decides to disclose her sins in front of all the wedding guests. The resulting events play for both comedy and tragedy as the characters attempt to get to the bottom of the matter.
Staying true to Shakespeare’s own dialogue, the film combines the Bard’s famous lines with modern conveniences in a present-day setting that helps bring a certain relevance to the production. However, along with the excessive drinking and some marijuana use, this film depicts numerous unmarried sexual relations between several of the characters, some bawdy dialogue and a few female characters shown in their underwear. While the content in this film makes it unsuitable for younger viewers, Whedon’s adaptation is well directed and performed. For older audience members, this artsy adaptation may well provide a fresh look at the ancient script.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Much Ado About Nothing.
Which of these couples do you think has the best chance for success? How might Claudio’s quick judgment about Hero’s supposed indiscretions affect their relationship? Why does she appear to be so quick to forgive him? What challenges will Benedick and Beatrice have to overcome? How can the kind of caustic communication they engage in wear away at a relationship? How difficult will it be for them to change their pattern of mean-spirited dialogue with one another?
How are sexual roles depicted in this production? Why does there appear to be a different standard for virtue when it comes to men and women? Are these expectations similar today?
How does a lack of facts and snap judgments contribute to misunderstandings among these characters? How do similar kinds of misunderstandings end more tragically in Shakespeare’s other works?