What to do, when you've just wrapped the biggest superhero movie of all time?
If you’re Joss Whedon, you set about revamping Shakespeare’s tragic-comic romance at your sun-drenched California residence on a secret 12-day shoot with a company of frequent collaborators (a ‘spot the Buffy/Angel/Dollhouse/Firefly regular’ drinking game would be lethal).
By paring back (black-and-white cinematography, low-key soundtracking), Whedon steers clear of the smugness that could have blighted such a cosy set-up.
Instead, he puts the emphasis on the dialogue (original lingo intact) while transposing the play to Santa Monica and swapping the tunics for sharp suits.
The uninitiated needn’t worry about keeping up, as canny casting keeps things clear. It all kicks off with a meeting of two powerful patriarchs, with ripe romances emerging between their various offspring and charges.
The impending nuptials of callow Claudio (Fran Kranz) and Hero (Jillian Morgese) might drive the plot forward, but it’s the sparky back-and-forth between reluctant would-be lovers Beatrice (Amy Acker) and Benedick (Alexis Denisof) that really enthrals – their protesting-too-much courtship feeling like Shakespeare’s invention of Hollywood screwball comedy centuries before the fact.
As for the modern-day update, it’s largely cosmetic – but with Whedon and cast on such game form, it feels churlish to complain.
The jazzy rhythm and infectious sense of freedom combine for a joyful piece of lo-fi cinema, and the consistent gag rate will be a pleasant surprise for anyone whose English Lit classes bludgeoned the joy out of the Bard.
A breezy but heartfelt Shakespeare update that should put a smile on the faces of Whedon fans, Bard worshippers and anyone in the mood for a sharp, sassy romance.