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Romeo + Juliet (1996)

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Next time someone hates on gangs dancing in West Side Story, I’ll be asking whether they’ve seen gangs fighting while speaking in Shakespearean dialect…

Yep.  I’m a hater.  But big disclaimer: I’ve always detested those idiot star cross’d lovers.  I’ve read the play, seen it three times, only once have I even remotely enjoyed it – and that was because they were kind of making fun of all those things I hate.  We’ll disregard for the moment that my ninth grade boyfriend played Romeo so it drove me nuts that he was kissing another girl and that every other girl in the junior high was head over heels for him…. totally unrelated.

Needless to say, I didn’t start off on good footing with this.  And I must admit that I have never detested this more.  It isn’t that I’m not used to the extravagant style of Baz Luhrmann – I’m a Moulin Rouge! fan.  It’s… that it doesn’t WORK the same way that it does in Moulin Rouge! In fact, it fails.  It’s a disastrous combination of Hollywood action and Shakespearean themes and dialect.  “Swords” are guns manufactured by ‘Sword?’  Funny.  But dumb more than clever.

It’s set in Verona Beach – but what they mean is stereotypical surfer California.  Pretty sure everyone knows what’s up with this story, but here’s a brief rundown of the mess.  The Montagues and the Capulets are in a turf-battle/family feud dating back to who knows when.  Romeo (Leonardo DiCapprio), a Montague, is depressed and in love with Rosaline.  Then he lays eyes on Juliet (Claire Danes), a Capulet and falls in {deeper?} love.  Ah, the beauty of the forbidden.  Then they frolic in a swimming pool, declare their undying love, Romeo’s good buddy Mercutio (Harold Perrineau – LOST!) gets murdered, Romeo kills the dude responsible, Juliet fakes her death to try and still rock it with Romeo in the end, Romeo believes she’s dead and kills himself, so then she kills herself too and they live happily ever after…. while dead?

On the subject of the plot – what was with that swimming pool crap anyway?  Dra-freaking-matic (don’t judge on the word).

It’s SO overly-colorful, it’s obnoxious.  I again compare to Moulin Rouge. It isn’t artistic and beautiful.  It’s distracting and insulting – like a crappy Tim Burton ripoff.  They’re wearing Hawaiian shirts for heaven’s sake – it’s a punk version of a SHAKESPEARE PLAY.  Seriously?  Luhrmann even has the nerve to show Mercutio as a drag queen at one point.  WTF.  The overtly provocative and modern-day clothing displayed at the masquerade is terribly out of place and, again, obnoxious.  The music is also unrelated and inconsistent.

I’m not against modern-day adaptations of Shakespeare plays.  I think that 10 Things I Hate About You is very clever and entertaining.  Even She’s the Man is kind of funny.  West Side Story is my personal favorite, and that’s dealing with this very story.  I think the main thing that fails here is the awful mismatch of sounding like Shakespeare and looking like The Beach Boys.  Had there been modern-day dialogue to match 20th century feel, it wouldn’t have sucked half as much.  FIrst of all, Leo and C-Danes have no idea how to speak Shakespeare effectively, they’re in way over their heads.  Pete Postlethwaite (the priest) and Miriam Margolyes (the nurse) seemed to be the only two who were even half-realistic.  But really, “art thou mad,” doesn’t work in Cali last time I checked.

The acting actually isn’t that bad, with the exception of Claire Danes.  I’m a huge Little Women fan, and I love her as the meek and quiet Beth March.  Not as the fiery Juliet.  I felt no connection to her, nor in their relationship really.  Leo’s my man, but even he isn’t at his top game – though he’s still probably my favorite part.  Pete Postlethwaite and Miriam Margolyes are definitely the most capable of the bunch, and quite enjoyable to watch.  [Side note, I saw Miriam Margolyes on stage in 2006 as Madam Morrible in Wicked. Cool.]  Everyone else is just background noise.  Paul Rudd (who I love in Friends and Clueless) doesn’t add much, neither does John Leguizamo, Paul Sorvino, nor Harold Perrineau (I actually didn’t like him much at all).

Overall, Romeo + Juliet is a dreadful adaptation to a Shakespearean classic.  I may not even like the original material, but Shakespeare at least knew what he was doing and I respect the man for everything he was capable of.  And this is where crap like Twilight comes from… 2/10

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