Directed by Carlo Carlei
Starring Hailee Steinfeld, Douglas Booth, Damian Lewis, Paul Giamatti
Shakespeare can be tedious, but incredibly delightful if done right. IF done right! And sometimes it really can be done right. My personal new favorite Shakespearean adaptation is Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing. It stays true to Shakespeare’s text, but at the same time gives the story a fresh twist with a new setting and a beyond spectacular cast who gives new life and depth to characters that are hundreds of years old. Carlo Carlei’s adaptation of Romeo and Juliet is NOT one of those wonderful film adaptations.
Do I really need to give a synopsis of one of the most famous plays of all time? Alright… for those of you who did not read Romeo and Juliet their freshman year of High School or see West Side Story or even Romeo Must Die starring Jet Li and (may you rest in peace) Aaliyah, I’ll give a short synopsis. There are two families of great importance in Verona, the Montagues and the Capulets. Romeo (Douglas Booth) is from the Montague family and Juliet (Hailee Steinfeld) from the Capulet family. One night Romeo and his friends sneak into a party that the Capulet’s are throwing. There Romeo and Juliet see each other from afar and instantly fall in love. Ah, young love. But wait a second, their families HATE each other. Oh, and Juliet is betrothed to another man. Uh oh.
Next, in one of the most famous scenes in all of literature, Romeo and Juliet profess their love for each other on Juliet’s balcony. They then decide, after only knowing each other for less than 48 hours, to get married. What a great idea! But sadly, the honeymoon is cut short when Romeo’s best friend, Mercutio, gets in a sword fight with Tybalt, Juliet’s cousin. Tybalt kills Mercutio, and in a rage, Romeo kills Tybalt. Oops. Now poor Romeo is banished, and gasp, Juliet must get married to Count Paris ASAP.
Well, Juliet and the Friar (Paul Giamatti) who married her come up with a brilliant plan. Juliet will take a potion to make her seem like she’s dead, but she’s really sleeping. The family will mourn her death, but in the process, Romeo will come back to Verona, wake fair Juliet with a kiss, and the two will ride away into the sunset. But since this IS a Shakespearean tragedy, that never happens. The message never gets to Romeo, and word gets back to him that Juliet is actually dead. Romeo comes back to Verona, drinks poison over her corpse, only to die just as she is about to wake. Juliet wakes up, sees Romeo dead, and stabs herself with his dagger. The End. Well, a lot of other people die in the process, too, but I won’t bore you like this movie did me.
Now, where to begin? This movie is what every man, woman, and child fears about Shakespeare. It’s dull as an unpolished silver spoon. Let’s start with the adaptation of the play. The beauty of Shakespeare is that the message of each play is so timeless that it can be set in almost any day and age. Baz Luhrman set his adaptation in modern day, almost Quentin Terrintino-like setting. And the 1995 version of Richard the III was set in a fictionalized fascist England in the 1930’s. This film was set in Renaissance era Verona… wow, how creative. And wait, haven’t we already seen a Renaissance era version of Romeo and Juliet made in the 1960’s? Oh yes there was! And it was not only a better made film, but it was also sexier. You actually believed that Romeo and Juliet had true chemistry.
And speaking of the actors, they sucked. Ooo, that’s harsh… the kids sucked, and the adults were permissible. Part of this, I blame on casting. Clearly, they were going for a WB/ABC Family-like casting, taking style over substance. The other part, I blame on the director. A sub-par director can make even the best actor into Kristen Stewart: case and point, Academy Award winner, Natalie Portman in the Star Wars prequels. George Lucas is a visionary but not a good director for actors. Both Booth and Steinfeld are just like their costumes and surroundings, beautiful to look at, but in the end, incredibly boring. Even my favorite character, Mercutio, could not save this movie. I found his performance bland. He has one of the greatest monologues in all of Shakespeare-dom, and I snoozed the whole time.
And the good parts of the play, the love and fighting scenes, are the most laughable of all. First, let’s start with the love scenes. They are as bumbling and awkward as a middle school penguin dance (You know the kind of dance where you’re as far apart as you can be while still touching, and you just kind of waddle around the floor). The two actors have absolutely no chemistry and just seem to be there, not to further the story but to further their careers. Welp, guess they missed the mark on that one. Then there’s the fight scenes. I love a good fight scene- especially a good sword fighting scene, like early Pirates of the Caribbean films or The Princess Bride or ANY Errol Flynn films. That being said, I could have created better fight choreography with a High School Theater class… seriously. The choreography is rudimentary and poorly executed. SUCH a disappointment.
As I said before, the scenery and costumes are incredibly lush and beautiful looking… and are probably the one thing that saves this film from getting my lowest rating possible. I will choose substance over style any day. But when it comes to film, music, and any other art (and I hate to sound like the winy teenagers that would have actually gone to see this) but can’t I have both?!
The video quality was exquisite. The film looks really beautiful. Beautiful actors, costumes, scenery, etc, etc. BUT there is a really corny looking scene in the middle of the film. When the two love birds get married, the cathedral looks extremely CGI-ed, and it looks worse than the effects on ABC’s Once Upon a Time… and that’s saying something. But other than that, a really beautiful looking film in beautiful Blu Ray HD.
The audio is also nice, but sadly, the audio of this film added absolutely nothing. The score is not as boring as the actual film, but sounds like every other score to a period piece that I have ever heard. The dialogue is well balanced, as are the sound effects, including the dumb sword fights that they laughably put in the film. It’s all average at best.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
Another thing that saves this package from the absolute doldrums. The cover art, like the film is really beautiful and striking, with the phrase “The most dangerous love story ever told,” underneath. Most “dangerous” love story ever told? REALLY? Ummm, what about Phantom of the Opera where a creepy ghost-like man kidnapped a woman he was infatuated with- that’s not dangerous? Or Jekyll and Hyde? HELL, even Twilight is a more dangerous love story than this tale of two horny teenagers trying to piss their parents off. Someone in marketing needs to work on their slogans.
The bonus features are nice, and luckily more interesting than the actual film. You get a behind the scenes look at the cast and crew, the filmmaker’s version, creating the look, and hair and make-up. It was interesting getting a behind the scenes look into the creation of this film, but honestly I look forward to a behind the scenes look at any film, even a second rate one.
Overall (Not an Average)
This film is the very reason why so many people hate Shakespeare. It’s all because of directors who don’t understand the script and set out to make what they think a (in an overly dramatic voice) “Shakespeare” play ought to be. And honestly, it makes me very angry because Shakespeare can be wonderfully marvelous and relevant. I have no idea who green-lit Carlei’s version of this classic tale, but they should be fired… now.