Written by Mallory Delchamp
As a former theatre major and an unabashed Shakespeare fan, I was very excited when I saw the trailer for the latest Romeo and Juliet film adaptation. As the release date drew closer, I was surprised at just how little advertisement was being done for the film. In fact, when I told my friends that I was going to see the film last night, most of them looked confused, as they were not even aware that the movie had been released. After seeing Carlo Carlei’s take on the iconic love story, the only adjective I could use to rightfully describe this rendition of the Shakespeare classic is “forgettable”. Now while I use the term forgettable let me explain that the film isn’t bad, but it isn’t good either.
Now like any film, Romeo and Juliet has it’s flaws and it’s redeeming qualities. It was difficult for me to not compare this film to its 1968 predecessor staring Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey. Unlike the Baz Luhrmann 1996 reboot (which set the Shakespeare tragedy in 1990s Verona Beach, California complete with modern costumes, props, and scenery) this film takes place in Shakespeare’s time in Verona, Italy. The men are dressed in woven vests and tights and the woman remain decked out in long gowns. This film looks very similar to Franco Zeffirelli’s rendition released over 40 years ago, which leaves me to question: If you’re not going to do anything new and original with Romeo and Juliet, well then why remake it? The 1968 version serves its purpose; it is loved by baby boomers and theatre nerds everywhere and the quirky 1996 version is a cult classic among millennials, another film adaptation isn’t needed. Or is it?
Romeo and Juliet has always been a favorite among film and theatre audiences, so is it really surprising that Carlo Carlei wanted to capitalize on this known fact? The film does offer a few new surprises to viewers; the script has been altered by Julian Fellowes, best known for his work on the hit television series, Downton Abbey. Fellowes condensed Shakespeare’s lengthy script and while it worked for some scenes, I honestly felt as though I was watching the Spark Notes edition of Romeo and Juliet. Some of Shakespeare’s most memorable lines have been replaced and the balcony scene, in my opinion, is nowhere near as captivating as its original draft. Fellowes also took the artistic liberty, to kill off another character in the film’s second act (I won’t reveal who but it was a huge surprise to me!)
The film is not all bad. For example, the costumes and scenery are absolutely stunning. Cinematographically speaking, this film excels at capturing the romance and spectacle that Shakespeare is known for. The actors are equally as beautiful. Most notably would be the rising star, Douglas Booth who plays the titular male character. Interestingly enough Douglas Booth does resemble Leonard Whiting, the actor who played Romeo in Zeffirelli’s version. But, Booth, while talented, doesn’t hold a candle to Leonard Whiting’s memorable performance. Hailee Steinfeld the young actress of True Grit fame portrays Juliet (surprisingly enough she could pass for a doppelganger of Olivia Hussey). Like her costar, Steinfeld is a fine actress, however I don’t feel that she had a true grasp on Juliet’s character and I prefer Olivia Hussey or even Claire Dane’s portrayal as the love-struck teenager. Steinfeld and Booth also lack the one ingredient that is key to the success of any love story: chemistry. Throughout the 118-minute long film, I never once believed that the two youngsters were in love.
The most surprising of the cast, would be Ed Westwick who portrays Romeo’s nemesis, Tybalt. Westwick gave a genuine and believable portrayal as the brooding Capulet and serves as one of the only highlights of the movie. The supporting cast, including Paul Giamatti as Friar Lawrence were all reputable but I didn’t see any Oscar-worthy performances here. Bottom line: Romeo and Juliet, fulfills its literary intent; it tells the story of the feuding Montegues and Capulets and how only love would put an end to their quarrels. Now whether or not this is the best film adaptation is still to be determined.