Joss Whedon does ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ on Hulu

Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof star in the modern dress Shakespeare adaptation from Joss Whedon

Joss Whedon shot Much Ado About Nothing (2012), his modern-dress take on the Shakespeare farce, in two weeks at his own house during down-time in the middle of making The Avengers, and his invited old friends and collaborators to join him. Angel co-stars Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof take the lead roles of Beatrice and Benedick and friends from Firefly (Nathan Fillion, Sean Maher), Dollhouse (Reed Diamond, Fran Kranz), and The Avengers (Clark Gregg) provide support in this easy-going black-and-white picture.

The palace is a lavish Los Angeles house in an upscale neighborhood—not quite Beverly Hills but definitely beyond suburban tract homes—and modern dress and archaic language leaves the specifics vague and even contradictory, as Italy is constantly evoked in this leafy California setting (Venice, on the other hand, actually fits right in). Whedon sees no reason to explain, suggest, or even justify the big picture. The talk of power and politics aside, the movie plays like a days-long party with friends and colleagues trading quips and lobbing witty insults in verse and high-fallutin’ Elizabethan stage English.

Acker and Denisof are a lively couple, courting through competition and one-upmanship and hiding affection under insults, and their almost reflexive retreat into verbal combat to cover any hint of emotional vulnerability is nicely conveyed by the performers, who similarly parried over affections years before in Angel. The group camaraderie, the joshing and affection of comrades in arms, is Whedon at his best and Reed Diamond stands out for his effortless sense of confidence and the rare gift of speaking Shakespeare’s words with an ease and rhythm that makes even obscure words and phrases easily understandable. A TV utility player and guest star, so often playing heartless professionals on either side of the moral line, he should be plucked out of this cast and given a role that makes the most of both welcoming energy, fraternal affability, and righteous anger when a friend is threatened or made the fool. Go with it. These guys do, and quite nicely.

Rated PG-13

Watch it on Hulu

Also on Blu-ray and DVD and on SVOD through Amazon Video, iTunes, GooglePlay and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.
Much Ado About Nothing [Blu-ray]
Much Ado About Nothing [DVD]

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The Blu-ray and DVD from Lionsgate includes two commentary tracks and two featurettes.

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Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears in Vulture, Turner Classic Movies online, Keyframe, and Parallax View.

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