Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing is a minor pleasure for Shakespeare fans, and that would be extremely minor indeed. I was hoping to love this film, but I came out of it a bit disappointed, as it mostly felt like a very small, almost amateurish table reading of the play.
Whedon has been known to have his friends over to his house to participate in readings of Shakespeare from time to time, and in fact this seemed to be exactly that, only with the cameras turned on. The setting has been updated to present day but of course the dialogue is unchanged, and fans will recognize plenty of Whedon actors in the film, from Angel's Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker as the lead characters Benedick and Beatrice, to Firefly's Sean Maher and Nathan Fillion, Buffy's Tom Lenz, and The Avengers' Clark Gregg filling out supporting parts. The characters show up at the mansion (in this case, Whedon's) and the familiar romantic misadventures of Shakespeare's comedy takes place, but for me although the effort was admirable, it didn't click on a a higher level than simply a bunch of pals hanging around playing make believe.
The actors are fine, but there's no real spark to the performances, and they didn't seem to give more than marginal effort to the dialogue that we've certainly seen in other, better Shakespeare adaptations (there's no Al Pacino in The Merchant of Venice here, for example, which is one of my favorite Shakespeare performances in a film). Alexis Denisof in particular didn't quite work for me as Benedick, coming off more smarmy and hammy than lovelorn and cynical. Nathan Fillion is the one exception- he's absolutely perfect as the constable Dogberry and steals the movie in his fairly small part. His high energy and comic timing suit the material perfectly and if every role was inhabited as joyfully as his that would have elevated the rest of the proceedings immensely.
The movie is shot in black and white, but given how low key the whole undertaking came across I'm left to suspect that was a move simply to distinguish it from a home movie in some way. There's really not much more than that on the screen, and it's a very slight entry into the filmed Shakespeare canon. On the plus side, you can't do much to take away from the dialogue, which is always a pleasure to hear, even in a setting equivalent to a table reading. If you're a devoted fan of the Bard and want to see every adaptation, I certainly wouldn't dissuade you from this one, but just know that there have been and very likely will be, better staged and grander versions of this play (the 1993 Kenneth Branagh/Emma Thompson one comes to mind) and this was ultimately a minimalist exercise that could have been infused with a hell of a lot more energy.