Not Too Much Ado on the Overflow Bus

I’m on the Megabus overflow bus, right now, from Ann Arbor to Chicago. The fancy, actual Megabus is full and ahead of us. Our driver pointed out that while we may not have Wi-Fi or outlets, we do have a bucket of candy up front along with some magazines, and we can be looking out the windows.

I was visiting Jess this weekend; she’s taking some summer classes at University of Michigan. We went to see Joss Whedon’s Much Ado film at an old theater with high gold-guilt ceilings.

I had heard some complaints about the chauvinistic elements in the movie. When fair Hero is accused of not being a maid, her father, Leonado pronounces that he wishes she would die. It’s something that undercut the entire play when I read it. A woman’s, or at least a noble woman’s, entire worth is bound up in her virginity, and even though the accusation against Hero is false, she has to die in the eyes of the community in order to be accepted back into it. There are some pretty dark underpinnings to this comedy.

It makes me wonder, I told Jess, about how much longer Much Ado About Nothing will be playable for modern audiences. Taming of the Shrew, for example, is hardly done anymore because of how domestic violence is used as a means to a happy end. Is Much Ado going the same way?

Jess had a different interpretation of Whedon’s version, which I thought was smart. She took the whole wedding scene – with Claudio publicly accusing Hero of cheating on him and Leonado wishing she’d die – as grounded in the theme of much ado about nothing. The difference, here, is in the modernization. Shakespeare’s play depicts a time when the characters’ responses in the play would match those in reality. A woman would forfeit her life through unfaithfulness. Someone in Beatrice’s shoes would demand a duel in response to what happened. But, now, that sort of behavior would be over the top.

In Whedon’s modernization, it’s not just the misunderstandings and schemes that make it much ado about nothing; it’s also the responses and behaviors of the characters themselves. Claudio could have confronted Hero in private, Leonado could have  (ugh, Leonado) been less dramatic, Beatrice could have done something more constructive than demand Benedick shoot anybody. They’re making mountains out of medium-sized hills. (I’d say molehill, as is tradition, but infidelity seems to warrant a bit of a bigger hill than that.)

So that’s one way to get around period-based chauvinism.

Whedon gets around a spot of racism in the play by using it to skewer his own production. Claudio, in distress, says "I would marry her were she an Ethiope." There are no black actors in the entire movie except for in that scene. There’s a black maidservant in the background and a beat of silence after Claudio says “Ethiope.” For a split second everybody looks slightly alarmed. It is quite racist. Then the moment passes, and there are all white people the rest of the time. Whedon uses it to point out, to admit maybe, that the cast isn’t as diverse as it should be.

Yeah, so overall a lovely film. I recommend it.

It’s bus-candy time.