Directed by: Joss Whedon
Written by: Joss Whedon, based on the play by William Shakespeare
Cast: Alexis Denisof, Amy Acker, Fran Kranz, Reed Diamond, Nathan Fillion, Clark Gregg, Spencer Treat Clark, Sean Maher
Synopsis (courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes): Shakespeare’s classic comedy is given a contemporary spin in Joss Whedon’s film. Shot in just 12 days (and using the original text), the story of sparring lovers Beatrice and Benedick offers a dark, sexy and occasionally absurd view of the intricate game that is love.
Why it could succeed:
The Bard always causes a stir. It’s just undeniable that anytime one of his works is adapted, it will generate a certain amount of interest. It comes with the territory of the centuries-long, enduring legacy of the greatest writer in the English language. As such, Joss Whedon‘s got himself a built-in audience ready and eager to lap up his tantalizing offering with this summer’s Much Ado About Nothing. Whether it’s specifically propelled into awards campaigns or just general buzz, the fact that this is a a Shakespeare-related work, will virtually eliminate the possibility of it being glossed over. This being a faithful adaptation, it might be of benefit that it’s set in a modern context, since a strict period piece would potentially be tiresome and predictable. The classic romantic comedy plot isn’t necessarily tied to any one location or time period, so this particular play lends itself rather well to a modern retelling. Shakespeare’s uncannily deep and varied understanding of a myriad of human emotions, conditions, and interactions actually makes any of his works highly adaptable, and Much Ado About Nothing is no exception. Case in point: even a story as complex and psychologically conscientious as Hamlet can serve as the springboard for a film like Disney’s beloved animated feature, The Lion King (1994).
In all the other areas where a project like this could underperform, rest assured that with Whedon as scribe and helmer, it will boast a well-written screenplay and lively character interactions, which may be more a credit to the Bard, but Joss will undoubtedly work in his own trademark quick-wittedness to match. Whedon’s evolving reputation as a notable writing talent and recent entry into the average household vocabulary with the mega success of The Avengers (2012) compound the potential attention this film could garner. Although wildly popular among fans, with a steady cult following, he’s yet to be recognized on a higher level for his works, so the romantic notion of recognizing a newcomer to the awards community may hold some appeal for critics and voters. Like I said, it’ll probably an idealistic pondering more than an actual fruition of reality.
Why it could fail:
Shakespeare’s well-represented body of works in film makes it one of the most familiar and favorite mining grounds for writers and directors alike. It also does wonders for the industry that all this rich intellectual property exists as public domain. In other words: that’s money in the bank. Within this genre, though, there exists the “slippery-slope” subgenre of the modern retelling. Joss Whedon’s latest tackling is one of the latter category, making it a risky choice, which could still possibly pay off with high dividends. It could fare well like the Taming of the Shrew adaptation in the surprisingly well-executed high school comedy, 10 Things I Hate About You (1999) , or poorly like the unsuccessful modernization of Hamlet (2000), starring Ethan Hawke. Then there’s the misunderstood case of the obscure, lesser-known tale of Coriolanus (2011), Ralph Fiennes’ directorial adaptation also set in a modern context. The film is actually a faithful adaptation and a reasonably decent picture, but probably didn’t perform well due to the unfamiliar and abrasive, though socially and politically relevant, story. And I know Baz Luhrman’s ultra-hip, suburban Romeo + Juliet (1996) was generally well-liked at the time (maybe still is somehow), but I dare you to try and sit through that display of absurdity bordering on heresy now that we know better. For me, it was a mild form of torture, which might be traumatically revisited with a butchered adaptation of The Great Gatsby later this year. I hope I’m wrong, but that’s neither here nor there. Based on the reception of some of its preceding modern Shakespeare-derived pictures,Whedon’s success on this one isn’t a sure thing.
So I know there was some outrage across the Internets when Whedon was overlooked for a screenplay nomination for The Cabin In the Woods (2011), and maybe even a little bit for The Avengers, but he just might not be the Academy’s brand of writer. He’s more appreciated among his fanbase than on a wider, critical scale, and the status quo may just remain the same come awards time. Sure the writing will be good, but will it be notable enough for real recognition? That remains to be seen.
The fact that it’s a low-budget, independent feature opening in the middle of June probably means there will be no aggressive marketing campaign for the film, so it’s got a good chance of falling below the radar. Apparently adamant to preserve the indie feel, Whedon’s stuck to casting his inner circle of frequent collaborators and friends from his culty TV shows and movies like Firefly, Angel, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dollhouse and Serenity (2005), rather than pursuing highly sellable names, again undermining a typical marketing strategy. Since there is no A-list talent to draw in new, non-fanboy audiences, this feature largely caters to the existing, niche target group, increasing its odds of being overlooked.
Honestly, although Whedon’s screenplay will probably be one of the best of the year, the film’s limited budget, exposure and early release make it highly likely to be forgotten come awards season. The early release, though, isn’t enough to discount it, since as recently as 2012, Midnight in Paris, released in June of 2011, earned a best screenplay Oscar, but that was a refreshingly original script. Its best shot for any awards is in the adapted screenplay category, which it may be able to corral depending on its reception and momentum.
The film already screened at Toronto Film Festival in September 2012 to generally positive critical reviews and was picked up by Lionsgate for stateside release on June 21, 2013. It’s slated for its U.S premiere at the 2013 SXSW Film Festival, which begins on March 8th.
Best Adapted Screenplay – Joss Whedon
Tags: adapted screenplay, Joss Whedon, Much Ado About Nothing, Nathan Fillion, William Shakespeare