Joss Whedon’s “Much Ado About Nothing” is just about the sloppiest Shakespeare ever put on the screen. It may also be the most exhilarating — a profound trifle that reminds you how close Shakespeare’s comedies verge on darkness before pirouetting back into the light. A black-and-white modern-dress version of the play, shot in 12 days at the director’s Santa Monica house, the film has the slapdash air of Mickey and Judy putting on a show in a barn. Yet it’s a genuine crowd-pleaser — the preview audience I saw it with laughed, gasped, and applauded as if they were at the Globe Theatre — and the play’s themes of pretense and revelation, ignorance and honesty, love lost and passion regained, ring happily and true.
Whedon, of course, is the creator of such beloved pop-cult objects as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Angel,” and the “Firefly”/“Serenity” sci-fi franchise, and, as such, a figure whose followers border on the maniacal. “Much Ado About Nothing” could be seen as his attempt to recapture some personal mojo after directing last year’s Marvel Comics behemoth “The Avengers” — the total budget for the new film probably doesn’t equal one day of crafts services for the blockbuster — but apparently the Bard has been an after-hours obsession of Whedon’s for years. He has been known to host informal Shakespeare-reading parties at his house, with his regular troupe of actors and actresses stepping up as needed. It sounds like something it’d be fun to be invited to. And now we have.