It took guts to adapt what is perhaps Shakespeare’s most legendary play without taking into consideration that most people, though not all, will view “Romeo & Juliet” as a been-there/done-that type situation. The star-crossed love story has been told so many times over the years (most recently using garden gnomes as the ill-fated lovers) that it’s hard to get excited about any new version, least of all one that pales in comparison to virtually all other tellings of the tale.
Rest assured, the new “Romeo & Juliet” is a faithful adaptation, using period clothing and Shakespearean prose to retell of how two teenagers from warring families met each other at a costume party, married in secret and then had their lives shuttered by tragedy when it became clear fate had other plans for their courtship.
It’s a pretty movie, both in the costuming and in the actors, all of whom are improbably gorgeous considering they lived 400 years before the advent of beauty products, and a few of the actors — specifically Paul Giamatti as Friar Lawrence and Leslie Manville as Juliet’s nurse — give spectacular performances. Still, there is something amiss in this version and that something is that there is no reason for it to exist.
Oh, sure, you could technically champion the movie as a substitution for ninth grade English teachers who’ve shown countless students Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 classic hundreds of times. Tween girls will no doubt moon over the movie’s Romeo (Douglas Booth), who has a chiseled jaw, dreamy eyes and is often photographed with his shirt half-open.
But when it comes down to it, “Romeo & Juliet” just can’t distinguish itself as its own, memorable entity. Not that I was expecting a bold new vision a la Baz Luhrmann’s MTV-inspired version with Leonardo DiCaprio, but it’d have been swell to see some trace — any trace — of nuance in this oft-told tale of woe.
In the end, you’re left with the sensation that this version of Shakespeare’s “Romeo & Juliet” doesn’t so much make one wonder “Wherefore art thou, Romeo?” as “Whyfore art thou?”
★★ out of ★★★★
Rated PG-13. 118 minutes. Director: Carlo Carlei.
Starring: Douglas Booth, Hailee Steinfeld.
Categories: Jesse Hoheisel