Movie Review: No Love for “Romeo & Juliet”

This past week, Shakespeare enthusiasts and romance lovers alike have patiently waited in lines around the world in order to see the new Carlo Carlei film adaptation of the Bard of Avon’s Romeo & Juliet. In this film, Douglas Booth (LOL) and Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit) had the opportunity to play the great “star-crossed lovers” in one of the world’s greatest stories of doomed love.

Hailee Steinfeld stars as young Juliet in Romeo & Juliet.

Hailee Steinfeld stars as Juliet in Carlo Carlei’s Romeo & Juliet.

Personally, being a huge fan of Baz Luhrmann’s version (Romeo + Juliet), starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes, I was quite skeptical if Carlei would be able to pull of the same magic that entranced so many in 1996. And indeed, my skepticism did not go unrewarded: for instance, the 2013 adaption very closely follows the medieval or Renaissance setting of the original, which almost made it boring compared to the 1996 version, which took place in what was then present-day California. Even worse, while some scenes portrayed really beautiful gardens and grand ballrooms, many others were filmed in front of tacky backgrounds and terrible green-screen effects – something unforgivable in the age of twenty-first century movie magic.

In fact, tackiness was evident throughout this attempt to bring Shakespeare to life. Again and again, the audience had to suffered through overacting and melodrama, to the point that it almost seemed as though the characters could not express any emotion whatsoever – including simply saying “I love you” – without a tremulous voice and tears running down their cheeks.

In addition to their tendency to chew the scenery at any and every opportunity, the actors also seemed a tad miscast, especially when compared to the 1996 counterparts. In Romeo + Juliet, DiCaprio played a very cool, cigarette-smoking, poetry-writing alpha male,  whereas Booth’s version of Romeo seemed very emotional and tad insecure. To be fair, however, I thought that the casting of Stienfeld was a triumph: indeed, she was a far more convincing Juliet than Danes, who often seemed slightly uninterested in the tumultuous love affair she was entangled in, and the disaster occurring all around her.

Although the Carlei was clearly working with good intentions, and truly did seem to have tried to follow Shakespeare’s plot as closely as possible, it was nevertheless the case that far too many of the original play’s famous lines were unmentioned, and many vivid characters neglected or at least underplayed. Fans of the Shakespeare’s work will often say that their favorite character in Romeo and Juliet is Mercutio, Romeo’s handsome, wickedly humorous, and deeply cynical right-hand man. Alas, in this version, casual viewers would never have known about his verve and strong characterization – mainly because he is killed off within the first half-hour.

Despite the fact that the negatives of this film certainly outweigh the positives, do not take this review as a reason not to see the film. It is unusual to see any fresh interpretations of William Shakespeare on the silver screen, and so this film represents an opportunity not to be missed. Simply consider this a cautionary note: do not enter the movie theater expecting to see the kind of genius that lit up the Globe all those centuries ago. This is nothing but a workmanlike (and flawed) adaptation of a brilliant original.

Grace Jones, Contributing Writer

Posted by on October 18, 2013. Filed under Arts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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