By Sarah Bennett

(Credit: All images courtesy of filmmakers)

Aside from the Firefly-fan moniker of Browncoats, there really isn’t a convenient, Trekker-like term to describe Joss Whedon fans like myself. After all, to love Joss Whedon isn’t just to love Firefly, but to love Buffy, to accept Angel, to find the better moments in Dollhouse, etc. As such a Whedon fan — one who once schlepped to Comic Con just to hear him speak about a year after giving his speech about “strong women characters” — I know that during the time Buffy and Angel were on the air, he would have Shakespeare brunches, where actors from his shows would come over, read the bard’s plays, sing songs from musicals and basically have dork orgies over bagels.

Claudio (Fran Kranz, in scuba gear) being manipulated by Don John (Sean Maher), Borachio (Spencer Treat Clark) and Conrade (Riki Lindhome)

That Whedon’s recent version of Much Ado About Nothing, which he filmed in less than two weeks in his own house, was basically one of those brunches with slightly higher production values, I was thrilled to see the film. I wasn’t sure, however, if it would be as appealing to any non-Whedonites, who’d just be seeing it as a low-budget product of Shakespeare and not the Whedon All-Stars (Amy Acker! Nathan Fillion! Mr. Willow!) looking pretty in black and white while using the word “thou.”

I saw the film with a friend who was interested in seeing it, not as a nerd, but as an actor, and she was semi-pleased. We agreed that the look of the film is pleasing — from the black and white to the romantic use of soft light and fog — but we were both semi-disappointed that it didn’t have anything new or interesting to say about the whole [spoiler alert?] “my daughter isn’t a virgin anymore, so she’s dead to me” plotline. To the non-Whedonite, it’s unfortunate because everything else about the play, from the set to costumes to some switched-gender casting and ensuing sexy times, is supposed to be set in the modern day. For me, I wanted to see what kind of “strong women characters”-magic Whedon could conjure and was bummed when I realized there was next to none, aside from what’s in the text.

Shakespeare or Angel fanfic? Alexis Denisof (Benedick) and Amy Acker (Beatrice) were also almost lovers on Angel, but their romance failed once Acker's character turned into a god with blue skin who liked to kill people. Love is complicated.

Judged on what it is — a cheap, quick take on Shakespeare with a bunch of fine actors — Whedon’s version of Much Ado is alright and certainly no worse than Kenneth Brannagh's take from 20 years ago. However, like most Whedon fans, I was expecting something that was less “alright” and more amazing, and non-fans might also have wanted more than modern clothes and black-and-white to make the film stand apart from your average Shakespeare production.