Director: Joss Whedon
Stars: Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Nathan Fillion, Fran Kranz, Jillian Morgese, Sean Maher, Reed Diamond, Clark Gregg, Tom Lenk
Making Hollywood blockbusters is really hard work—it'd be understandable if the guy who directed last year's gargantuan smash The Avengers opted to take some time off before shooting his next project. That's not how Joss Whedon works, though.
Rather than sit back and either field offers for more studio fare or go off the grid, Whedon took the less obvious step: He invited a bunch of his best actor-friends over to his Los Angeles house for 12 days and shot a black-and-white, loose, and breezy adaptation of William Shakespeare's classic play Much Ado About Nothing. And unlike past examples of famous people getting together for some paid playtime (see: Couples Retreat, Grown Ups), Whedon's lo-fi experiment is as much fun to watch as it must've been to produce.
Keeping Shakespeare's dialogue untouched, Whedon relocates the story to modern-day L.A., proving the timelessness of the bard's writing without ignoring the silliness of what he and his cast are doing. Props that were unavailable to Shakespeare during his time, like a Barbie's Playhouse, are used for clever comedic effect, and several of the players—particularly Whedon regular Nathan Fillion as the bumbling detective Dogberry—play up their self-aware sense of humor just enough to conjure laughter but not distract from the mission at hand. That mission, of course, is to tell a love story, a central one—between the initially contentious Benedick (Alexis Denisof) and Beatrice (Amy Acker)—that's surrounded by peripheral romances.
Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing is the ultimate take-it-or-leave-it property: It doesn't need to exist, frankly, and he and his cohorts don't modernize the material so much that Shakespeare's seminal tale feels entirely fresh. But there's nothing wrong with a harmless and spirited homage to a storyteller of Sir William's caliber, especially when it's delivered with the pleasantries and charm seen here. Not all movies need to be The Avengers.