Clothes strewn on the floor and rumpled bed sheets. Slowly, the camera pans to reveal Benedick hastily dressing himself after a liaison with Beatrice. This is how Joss Whedon's 2012 adaption of Shakespeare's timeless romantic comedy Much Ado About Nothing begins. Set in a hazy Southern California summer, production occurred over a 12 day span and was filmed entirely at Whedon's house. Unlike previous iterations of the play, Much Ado is a stripped down, character-driven work that uses cinematography and expression to illuminate recurring themes.
Whedon filmed the movie in black and white, using very few cameras and allowing the actors to take full advantage of the source material. In key scenes, such as when Beatrice is informed of Benedick's supposed secret undying love, the audience is drawn into the action as she crawls behind a kitchen island and eavesdrops on Hero and Ursula. When Benedick decides to tell his witty counterpart how he really feels, the use of mirrors heavily emphasizes the line between what is true and what is perceived, a reflection of his relationship with Beatrice. Rather than burden the film with complex Italian politics, Whedon simply allows Shakespeare's words to fill the scenes and places the focus on the back-and-forth banter that makes Much Ado such an entertaining play. Moreover, twenty-first century social mores allow the implicit to become explicit, as in the added first scene when Benedick leaves Beatrice the morning after. Much of the original material is loaded with innuendo, infidelity, and complex gender roles, and the modern time and place fit well into that framework.
Few Shakespeare adaptions feel as natural as Much Ado does, but it is the decisions made by Whedon and the production staff that allow the play to transcend its roots and feel at home in a California mansion, amidst cocktail dresses and one night stands. Society may change, but human nature is as devious as it was when Much Ado About Nothing was first written, and this ultimately is what allows the movie to function as a worthy work of art.