tek's rating: ¾

William Shakespeare's Romeo+Juliet (PG-13)
Fox Digital HD; IMDb; Rotten Tomatoes; TV Tropes; Wikipedia

Caution: potential spoilers.

This is, of course, a modern-day adaptation of probably the most famous play ever written, so you've probably got at least a passing idea of the plot. It came out in 1996, but I didn't see it until 2012 (wow, 16 years later). It was directed by Baz Luhrmann, who would about five years later direct Moulin Rouge... which I saw for the first time earlier this year. So, I dunno, I thought I should mention that I saw one of his later movies before this earlier movie. Not that there's any relation between the movies, of course. The point is... I liked "Moulin Rouge" a lot more than I liked this. But I do like the concept of this movie, at least in theory. The actual execution didn't work for me quite as well as I'd hoped. But it got better as the film progressed. I should also mention that Juliet is played here by Claire Danes (who we quite like), who I was aware of from the 1994 show My So-Called Life; a show I'd wanted very much to see, but didn't get a chance to until some years later. But by now (2012), it's been a bunch of years since I saw that, and I suppose I've seen Danes in other things since then. Romeo was played by Leonardo DiCaprio, who is a similar case: at the time this came out, I was aware of him, but I don't think I'd seen any of his work; but by now, I've seen him in other stuff he did later. Anyway, I've wanted to see this movie for a lot of years, and when it first came out, in spite of perhaps not having actually seen the leads before, I imagine I would have thought of them as quality actors, and the thinking teen's heartthrobs. There are other stars I should probably mention, like Paul Rudd, who played Paris, and the previous year had been in Clueless, though I probably didn't see that until a few years later. And there's Brian Dennehy as Romeo's father, and Paul Sorvino as Juliet's father. John Leguizamo as Tybalt. And Harold Perrineau (whom I wouldn't hear of until much later, on Lost) as Mercutio.

Anyway... instead of being set in Verona, it's set in fictional Verona Beach (which I'm assuming is supposed to be in California). The first thing we see is a TV news report in which the famous opening lines of the play are spoken by a reporter. I really liked that bit; somehow, the lines really sounded to me like something you might hear on such a modern-day news report, even if the actual language was Shakespeare's. Unfortunately, most of what comes after that doesn't sound nearly as natural, to me. There's a group of young Montagues, and a group of young Capulets. Obviously, they are rival families. And in spite of Benvolio Montague's attempt to keep the peace, a gunfight breaks out between the two groups. (Romeo wasn't with them, at the time.) Later, police captain Prince warns the heads of each household not to let anything like that happen again. The movie begins to get better, from this point on, but I gotta say, the initial scene was just redonk. I suppose it's sort of a good thing that the guys in the fight all seemed so ludicrous, because probably the characters were just as stupid in the actual play... but somehow, it seems stupider to hear Shakespearean dialog coming out of the mouths of late 20th century teenage (or young adult) jackasses. Guys who are in modern clothes, driving modern cars, brandishing modern weapons, and delivering very old-school dialog in a very modern way. It's just jarring. (Then again, even if they'd been speaking modern dialog, I'm sure I still would've thought they were morons, aside from Benvolio.)

Later, Benvolio tries to cheer up Romeo, who has a broken heart, because the girl he loves, Rosaline (whom we never see), doesn't love him. A bit later, the Montague boys meet up with Mercutio... who in this movie is a drag queen, at least when we first meet him. (I guess it kind of fits the character, who was always the funniest, most outrageous person in the play. But it's still jarring. He dresses like a guy in later scenes, but he's still ambiguously gay. And yet, his delivery of Shakespearean dialog is much more natural than Benvolio's.) Of course, throughout the movie there's dialog that I don't entirely follow, which is par for the course, in any adaptation of Shakespeare, whether it's straightforward or greatly altered, as it is here. But I always get the gist of what's going on. And Mercutio invites Romeo and the guys to a party the Capulets are throwing (though how Mercutio got an invite, I have no idea, except that in spite of being friends with Montagues, he's technically not one of them).

At the party, Juliet's mother introduces her to this guy named Dave Paris, a potential suitor. However, Juliet and Romeo meet and fall in love at first sight. Then they realize each is the kin of their parents' enemies, which is kind of a shame. I should mention, as highly as I may regard the play, I've always had a big problem with the premise of the whole "love at first sight" thing, because obviously they don't really love each other, since they don't know a damn thing about each other, other than that they're very attracted to each other. But whatevs, I'll overlook that, as I always do, and focus on how unfortunate it is that their families are enemies. Still, they secretly meet up again after the party, and there's some very good kissing. Mostly in a pool. And they plan to get married, in spite of their families' rivalry. (And incidentally, Shakespeare's dialog feels much more natural coming from Danes and DiCaprio than it does from just about anyone else in the movie.)

The next day, Romeo asks Father Lawrence to marry Juliet and himself, and in spite of Lawrence's misgivings (he feels much as I do about the fickleness of Romeo's heart), he believes this union could result in an end to the enmity between the two families, so he agrees. Meanwhile, Juliet sends her nursemaid to seek word from Romeo on when and where she should meet him. (I must say, the nurse and Friar Lawrence were always two of my favorite characters in the play, and I still think they're quite good, played here by Miriam Margolyes and Pete Postlethwaite.) So, Romeo and Juliet marry in secret. After that, a sequence of tragic events transpires, the details of which I don't want to divulge (even though you probably know what those events are, particularly the final tragedy). I will say this, though: for a minute there, near the end, I thought that final tragedy might actually be averted in the movie. Instead, the scene actually became even more tragic than it is in the original play, though I won't say how. I'll also say Father Lawrence doesn't have a final expository monologue, as he does in the play. I missed that. Still... I ended up liking the movie more than I thought I would, early on. It remains a tale of great woe. And again, Romeo, Juliet, Lawrence, and Nurse were all well-acted. Mercutio and Captain Prince were good. ...Actually, there was a lot more good acting in the movie than I expected.

Oh, and I also wanted to mention that I got the movie's soundtrack probably not so long after the movie came out, so long, long before I actually saw the movie. It's got some good songs on it.


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