Sunday, June 23, 2013

Yes, Yes, Yes!

During the summer months, studios release the films they fervently hope will be major blockbusters.  For the moviegoing public, this is the season of (as we say here in the South) high cotton, as every week there's something new to excite our jaded senses; something advertised with the sounding of trumpets as being Bigger, Better, Louder, and More!  (More what is a question that should be asked, but I digress.)

But every now and then, if you look diligently and patiently and don't mistake quiet for dullness, you'll find a small and glittering gem, so sure of its worth that it doesn't require the circus parade of whizbangwow!  Readers, I am pleased to report that I have found that summer gem and it is Joss Whedon's adaptation of Shakespeare's Much Ado about Nothing.  It's a small movie, not available in every market, so you'll probably have to search a little.  Don't bother, I hear some of you saying.  It's Shakespeare?? I hate that guy - he talks funny and I never understand him.  Isn't something with explosions or aliens or car chases or hangovers playing anywhere?  Readers, lend me your ears.  Let me tell you why it's worth the effort.

First off, Shakespeare is only dull and boring if you approach it the way many of us were first exposed to it in high school - by silently reading the script and having our eyes dart down the page to figure out what a "cankerblossom" is.  Tsk, tsk.  It's the worst possible way to read Shakespeare (or any play, for that matter).  But you don't have to read the whole thing out loud - let trained actors do the heavy lifting for you.  When done properly, Shakespeare's language dances and twirls and delights in itself.

Second, back in the 1930s, American cinema had a heyday with a particular kind of romantic comedy known as the "screwball comedy."  Among the particular elements of the screwball comedy are two lovers who can't abide each other, a strong and independent female lead, quick-paced dialogue, an exploration of social norms, and highly exaggerated circumstances.  Fun movies - and it can be argued that Much Ado started the whole screwball comedy genre.  Beatrice and Benedick can't stand each other, but they're irresistibly attracted to each other.  (Hero and Claudio's romance is supposed to be the main storyline, but they just can't compete with these two, whose wit and banter and heat can blister the paint off a wall.)

Whedon has long had a liking for Shakespeare and he's been known to host informal readings at his house.  He shot Much Ado in 12 days at his house, in between principal photography on The Avengers and post-production work on that monster-budget film.  This is a "micro-budget" film - in fact, it's been said that the total budget of Much Ado was less than the catering budget on Avengers.  Like the best of the screwball comedies, this Much Ado is filmed in sharp black-and-white.  Whedon assembled a cast of actors he's worked with before and the results sparkle.  The incandescent Amy Acker (Beatrice) and the highly magnetic Alexis Denisof (Benedick) get to show off their comedic chops, while Nathan Fillion (Dogberry) and Tom Lenk (Verges) nearly steal the show as bumbling, nearly incoherent cops.  I could go on and on, but I won't.  Go see for yourself.

Of course the plot isn't realistic - when Shakespeare was writing, realism in drama was several centuries in the future.  (Although the very first scene of the movie provides a reason for why Beatrice and Benedick are so strained around each other.)  You know what else?  People didn't go around in Shakespeare's time speaking in iambic pentameter, either.  Let it go.  Quit being so hip and cynical and just enjoy watching overheard conversations lead to the the unfolding of True Love.

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