Much ado over Joss Whedon's "Much Ado About Nothing"

(CBS News) In this web-exclusive review, film critic David Edelstein says the "Avengers" director's home movie starring his friends is the best of all filmed Shakespeare comedies:


At one point Hamlet turns to his friend and says, "There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

One thing undreamt of in mine was that the director of "The Avengers," with American TV actors with no training in verse, could make the best of all filmed Shakespeare comedies, "Much Ado About Nothing."

I said "comedies," not tragedies or histories -- there are great filmed "Hamlet"s and "Richard the III"s, and others. But you can have Kenneth Branagh's overbroad "Much Ado" and musical "Love's Labour's Lost."

And I said "filmed." Sirs Peter Hall and Trevor Nunn are legendary theater directors, but Sir Peter with his messy Sixties' film, "A Midsummer Night's Dream," and Sir Trevor with "Twelfth Night," didn't know where to put the camera.

The Tuscany "Midsummer" with Kevin Kline was a rhythm-less horror, laboriously "opened out" for urchins and matrons kneading dough.

Joss Whedon's "Much Ado About Nothing" feels easy, tossed off -- as it was, in a sense, in a 12-day shoot in the director's house.

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It's set in a business mogul's modern compound, but in some ways the setting is neither here nor there. Whedon gives us only what's required to set off the words.

Amy Acker in "Much Ado About Nothing."
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The actors sound like they talk this way all the time, the lines coming trippingly off their tongues.

Whedon-verse actors Amy Acker and Alex Denisof play bickering ex-lovers Beatrice and Benedict, and Acker (left), in particular, is a treat -- screwball tart, slapstick silly, vivid even in repose.

Even funnier is "Firefly" hero Nathan Fillion as constable Dogberry. Fillion plays it like a cop on "Law & Order," and makes a touchingly credible buffoon.

The play hinges on two couples -- Beatrice and Benedick, and ingenues Hero and Claudio, the latter two the object of a diabolical plot to break them up.

This is one of those Shakespeare comedies that skirts tragedy. Almost everyone wears masks and tests loyalties -- a sadly human compulsion, and always a bad idea.

It's no surprise the creator of TV's girl-power saga, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," gives special weight to women's powerlessness before injustice. That's why we needed Buffy.

Over the years Whedon had colleagues over to sit in his den and read Shakespeare aloud. It was kind of a palate-cleanser -- and a goad to do better in their own work. What he's done here is bring that casual, pickup spirit to film, and in doing so bring Shakespeare closer. It's the everyday clarity of "Much Ado" that's so exhilarating.


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To view the trailer for "Much Ado About Nothing," click on the video player below.

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