As with most Shakespeare plays, there are many adaptations of the O.G. rom-com Much Ado About Nothing. The BBC did two versions, one starring Damien Lewis as Benedick; there’s a Berlioz opera and World war II–era musical (plus an in-the-works rock version by Billie Joe Armstrong); and then there are the films. Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing — a modern-day version, set in Southern California, with the men in business suits instead of combat gear — currently has a 78 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. New York’s David Edelstein called it “the smoothest and most enjoyable of all Shakespeare comedies on film.” It is totally worth your time! So, in its own way, is the 1993 Kenneth Branagh–directed, entirely cheeseball Much Ado. Remember this movie? It is a wonder.
First, there is the cast: Denzel Washington, Keanu Reeves, an entirely unrecognizable Kate Beckinsale — and that’s before you get to Branagh and his then-wife Emma Thompson as Benedick and Beatrice. How often do you see a good screen performance from a real-life couple? Never; it’s a sea of Giglis out there. But Branagh and Thompson nail this, to the point that you could believe their whole marriage was conducted in Elizabethan English (which seems like a decent possibility, now that I think about it). They’re hamming it up, sure, but in a classically-trained-actor way. You feel like you’re getting proper Shakespeare here.
Which brings us to another important point: this is the perfect term-paper movie. I don’t mean that in the slacker, don’t-read-the-book way; I mean that it very capably brings the traditional interpretation of Much Ado About Nothing to life. When you’re in tenth grade and just trying to figure out which lines are the plot points before your final exam, this is important. And it helps as a Whedon or a BBC viewer, too; you have to understand the straight-forward version before you can appreciate the present-day reimagining.
There are also simpler pleasures — like, say, the picture-perfect opening credits. The whole movie has a luxurious bordering on GOOP-ish Italian vibe — it’s like watching a Merchant Ivory film, but with nudity and jokes — but this sequence is really something. Watch:
That was actually filmed after Three Amigos. Perfect.
Also on the Ridiculous List: Keanu Reeves, who uses only one expression for the entirety of the movie. Since he playing the villain, it is a scowl. Since it is Keanu Reeves, his scowl looks really confused, like this:
And then there is the matter of Robert Sean Leonard, who is looking great in that waistcoat. Same goes for Denzel, who, like always, is just wandering around a movie set being Denzel, regardless of time or situation. Did we mention that Michael Keaton is in this one? Seriously, see the Joss Whedon Much Ado, but rewatch this one too. 1993 was a magical time.