Forsooth, this is a pretty play! And "play" it truly is. You don't realize how infrequently it's obvious on-screen that everyone is having fun doing what they do, until you see it as plain as day.
Much Ado About Nothing might be Shakespeare's funniest play, and it's certainly wiser about romance than most of what has passed for romantic comedy in the past 50 years, which makes for a smart, snappy production. But that's not the best reason to see this newest rendition. The best reason to see it is simply because it is pure, unalloyed, rollicking cinematic joy.
There's a very good explanation for why this film feels like geek-boy writer-director Joss Whedon got all his little actor friends together and put on a show in the backyard. Because that's exactly what he did. Apparently Whedon gets all his little actor friends together on a regular basis to sit around and shoot the Shakespearean shit at his house. This time we get to watch, because there were cameras around to catch it all.
I envy those for whom the involvement of Whedon and players from his Firefly and Angel and Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Dollhouse might mean that this is their first exposure to Much Ado. I'd love to be able to experience the unfolding of the wickedly funny and wise romantic japes here again, and have it be all new and surprising — for instance, to see with new eyes the equally yet oppositionally snarky Benedick (Alexis Denisof) and Beatrice (Amy Acker) come to realize that the arrows of wit that fly between them are those of love, not disdain.
Regardless, we all get there when their loved ones cheekily conspire to trick them into admitting they're actually perfect for each other: her uncle, Leonato (Clark Gregg) and his daughter Hero (new Whedon discovery Jillian Morgese); and his boss, Don Pedro (Reed Diamond) and pal Claudio (Fran Kranz).
This is a story about a bunch of clever, elegant people at a weekend house party told by a bunch of clever, elegant people at a weekend house party. (Whedon shot over 12 days, actually, but still.) It's a frolic, and it accidentally brings the romantic comedy as a genre into a realm of fantasy and poetry and fun and laughter in a way that few other films can manage even deliberately, so that even the woefully outdated stuff — like men wishing death on a young lady merely because they believe she is no longer a virgin — can be brushed off as simply part of the extended, ridiculous pretending.
This cannot be taken seriously, which is a good thing. It becomes the sheerest, breeziest form of escapism, in which the evil prince and "plain-speaking villain" Don John (Sean Maher) and comic relief Dogberry (Nathan Fillion, and oh man, is he hilarious) are but extremes on a spectrum of amusement that breathes with dramatic and humorous vitality and a sort of honest enthusiastic spirit.
I commit no false report, nor do I speak untruths, nor am I a lying knave: I love this movie. I wish everyone who doesn't "get" Shakespeare could see it and understand that it's not supposed to be staid and stuffy but, done right, is marvelous and jubilant and leaves you walking on air.