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"For never was a story of more woe Than this of Juliet and her Romeo."
Count Paris (Tom Wisdom)
The "woe" in this umpteenth adaptation of Romeo and Juliet over the last 400 years is that the titular lass, as played by Hailee Steinfeld, is weakly acted with immaturity, poor elocution, and disappointing physical presence. Add to that another woe: Douglas Booth's Romeo is prettier than Steinfeld with only slightly better articulation.
So, the outdoor production I saw this summer outflanked director Carlo Carlei's uneven take. However, for sets and cinematography, his production is beautiful, having been lovingly filmed in Verona. The ancient estates are astonishingly effective as horses race past old bricked walls and lovely ladies act beneath frescoes and columns that boast of nobility.
Yet the real reason to see this new production is Paul Giamatti's Friar Laurence, a benign manipulator undone by forces beyond his control. Giamatti's range from sweet confessor and cupid to perplexed operative is masterful. Look for his Oscar nomination for best supporting actor.
Lesley Manville as the Nurse is second only to Giamatti, a loving servant with a twinkle and a deep understanding of the lethal games. In fact, most of the supporting players such as Damian Lewis's Lord Capulet are welcome pros next to the amateurish leads.
The film, while featuring the besieged friar, also does a successful job highlighting the egregiously intense hormonal urges of young men: Tybalt (Ed Westwick) and Mercutio (Christian Cooke) have the feral ferocity of doomed warriors. Even the more placid Count Paris is waiting to let his inner soldier take over in the revenge category.
Writer Julian Fellowes bastardizes some of Shakespeare's glorious dialogue (why would anyone try to improve on the best?) and even adds rogue lines, albeit in the Elizabethan mode, such as "The road to hell is paved with good intentions." Now that is not Shakespeare!
But the basic story is still the essence of intelligent soap opera, and for its endurance, even with weak leads, I am grateful. And that cinematography makes me long to return to fair Verona.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Terrible. The scenery was nice and the music was okay, but that's all. I love Romeo and Juliet, and I'm a HUGE fan of the 1968 movie, but this left me laughing instead of crying. The acting was a joke, none of it was believable(I don't think Romeo OR Juliet had any idea what they were saying through out this movie) parts of scenes were missing, and the tomb scene was twisted in a stupid way. I wish I hadn't gone to see it, waste of money... This makes the Leo DiCaprio movie look good, at least it was full of emotion and Mercutio was actually a unique character. Let's just say that if I have never heard of Romeo and Juliet before and watched this movie for the very first time, I'd probably never understand it or even see the beauty in it. This was very disappointing.
What the f**k just happened.
I had hopes. I really did. It's been almost two decades since an R&J adaptation, and I think it makes perfect sense to make a new version each generation or so, a fresh take, new faces to reinvent the timeless genius, etc, etc. Hamlet has been remade four times in the past twenty-five years and each version is unique, original and valid. That's one of the truly remarkable things about Shakespeare; the timelessness of his dialogue, characters and concepts stand the test of almost any lens.
And here I stress, *almost* any lens.
When I heard about this remake, I thought, great, we're ready. After Zefferelli's colorful, innocent and authentic gem, and Luhrmann's modern, raucous carnivale, even the idea of a newly traditional retelling was appealing, complete with genuine Veronese backdrops, longswords and tights.
And therein lies the true tragedy of Carlei's Romeo and Juliet: it could have been so much more than this. It should have been so much more. It should have been at least watchable. At the very least.
So many reviews have said things like "I don't mean to be snooty, but" Let's get one thing straight. There is nothing snooty about insisting on Shakespearean text. It's his play. He wrote it. The reason you're making a movie out of it again is because it is so amazing that no one has been able to surpass it and so you should never ever ever ever ever under pain of death and torture even consider bastardizing that perfect language.
Some people think that "Shakespeare would have written a different script for film."
No. He wouldn't have. He wouldn't have changed a thing. You. Dumb. Person.
If you are going to screw with the language, at least be smart about it, do an honest and complete rewrite, throw in some smug references and you'll end up with something like My Own Private Idaho or Chimes at Midnight, both of which are clever, original tributes to Shakespeare without presuming to remodel him. Seriously, from the writer of Downton Abbey we surely expected more charm, more grace, more intelligence. Maybe someone locked Fellowes in a tower with no food until he had finished this monstrosity. I truly hope that was the case. I feel better already.
And to all who have said something like "it's a way of connecting today's youth with classic literature" just stop right there. 'Classic literature' has managed to hold it's own for centuries, all the way from 1595 to 1996 when DiCaprio made us cry, so why, pray tell, has it suddenly become too much for our dear 'youth' in the 21st century? Has the world's collective 'youth' IQ taken a dramatic nosedive in the past eighteen years? Or is it because condescending, presumptuous dicks like yourself don't think our precious 'youth' can handle some iambs? That kind of thinking is actually making the world a dumber place.
In terms of casting (something that professionals actually get paid to do, by the way Carlo) I get the distinct impression that Hailee Steinfeld was chosen for this role very soon after True Grit, before she grew out of her pretty young charm and into a tomboy. Yes, she can act, yes, she's got a good face, but, no, she is not a Juliet. Especially not to Douglas Booth's Romeo. I can't recall a more fatal miscast then these two ill-equipped leads. There is simply no woman pretty enough to play a dove among crows opposite Booth. Except for maybe? No. No one. That face should be on a Calvin Klein underwear campaign, not on the silver screen with lines to deliver and stuff.
(And, side note, what 18 year old male who is so full of passion and temper that he crashes a wild party, falls madly in love with two different women, gets married, gets banished, and kills two guys and himself within the space of a few days chooses to spend an afternoon chiseling placidly away at a piece of marble? Really?? You had to do that???)
With wonderful, seasoned talent like Damien Lewis and Paul Giamatti on hand, and some new faces that have more or less proved themselves on screen, I had hopes. Instead, by the time the tomb scene came along, all I could think was: please God let this movie end and release me from its impotent, beige, trope-ridden hell. I had absolutely no emotional investment in the relationship between Romeo and Juliet. None. And what is the story of Romeo and Juliet when you suck all the life-blood out of the titular relationship? Something verging on Twilight. (Yeah, that was bad. See what this movie's done to me?)
Kodi Smit-McPhee as Benvolio was actually a true high point in the acting stakes. Too bad he looked like the placating younger brother lost amongst a cast of simian adult cousins ("We fight! We fight!" "No, come on you guys, let's just all get along!" "Shut up, Ben."). And Ed Westwick had some wonderful potential as Tybalt; he just needed a director who could help him reign it in a bit and bring out the character subtleties. Alas. No such delicacy was achieved.
In summary, the experience of watching this atrociously-rendered, high-school musical offering, which had the quality and charm of a preliminary blocking read-through for a TV movie, was so terminally saddening that I had to watch Luhrmann's version immediately after. If only to hear the whole Prologue. I mean, not even 'star cross'd lovers' was sacred. Good god.
This movie took a turn for the worse the moment I saw a jousting stick. And it never recovered.
To embody the spirit of Will McAvoy: This movie is the worst period adaptation period ever period.
If you enjoy the immortal words of Shakespeare's eponymous play then DO
NOT SEE THIS FILM! I only stayed for an hour and that is an hour of my
life I will never get back. I'm baffled as to how anyone could
bastardise Shakspeare to such an extent that it was almost
It really was 'Shakespeare for Dummies' rewritten by a man who is clearly so arrogant as to think the general public couldn't possibly understand or enjoy the original text. Job well done Mr Fellowes because I barely recognised any of it so if that was your intention then, bravo! You would really be better of watching 'Shakespeare in Love' if you want an introduction to Romeo & Juliet that stays true to the text & also has an enjoyable narrative rather than this drivel.
The acting was contrived and there was absolutely zero chemistry between the two leads. Also it was very disconcerting watching a 'boy' play Romeo that was prettier than many females I know.
If you love Romeo & Juliet, for you own peace of mind, stay away from this aberration. If you enjoy Twilight, this might be for you.
I am in two minds about this film: On the one hand I can honestly say
that I enjoyed it and that it swept me away in the timeless love story.
On the other hand there are several things that really bothered me and
that I believe would disqualify it from being classified a "good" film.
Firstly, the bad:
1) The movie doesn't follow Shakespeare's original text. Sure enough, the most famous lines are all there, but the movie frequently deviates from Shakespeare's text. The simplification of some text insults the intelligence of the audience and does seem a little arrogant on the parts of the screenwriters. It also doesn't help that much of the changes has the feel of modern speech being rewritten in an "old-english-sounding" tongue which clearly stands out from the classic words of the bard. Not even the ending escapes some liberal changes. 2)Hailee Steinfeld is really a bad casting decision for Juliet. She is simply so much younger than Romeo that their on-screen chemistry looks a bit creepy. Her portrayal of Juliet lacks depth and she simply does not possess the beauty to be a Juliet - especially if you pair her with Douglas Booth as Romeo. (Another reviewer complained that Romeo is more beautiful than Juliet in this film and I have to agree that this is true)
Now for the good: 1) Bringing fierceness and intense passion to the role, I thought Douglas Booth was a really good Romeo. 2) Paul Giamatti is excellent as Friar Laurence. He brings some comic relief, lightness and heart to the film. 3) The story is fast-paced, passionate and intense. Enough of Shakespeare's most-loved soliloquies and dialogue appear to retain the timeless beauty of his words. The words still bring layer upon layer of meaning to the story and brings so much depth and emotion to the story of the star-crossed lovers that one can't help but wander at just how Shakespeare was able to get so much emotion into so few lines.
I give this film a score of 7 as I quite enjoyed it despite it's flaws. Don't watch this movie if you have to do a school project on Romeo and Juliet, though!
Of all the clever-clever barbs fired at the 2013 "Romeo and Juliet", "Shakespeare for Dummies" has probably given the film's detractors the most satisfaction. But, as anyone who has read my user reviews of the 1940 "Pride and Prejudice" and the 1999 "Mansfield Park" will quickly realise, I am no purist as far as literary adaptations for cinema are concerned. I suppose therefore I must be something of a dummy, but a dummy who would like to take the floor to confess to finding this recent version of literature's most famous youth-love-death cocktail rather wonderful. Not that it hasn't been well done before. I haven't seen Castellani's but Zefirelli's later version was a thoroughly worthy attempt, certainly of a standard to raise a question as to whether further interpretations were needed. I experienced serious unease fuelled by all those truly awful reviews before even the opening credits. Give it half an hour perhaps. Not that it started particularly well. A horseback contest between a Montague and Capulet reminded that we might well be entering "Ben Hur" country with all the boredom of that gargantuan epic. I suppose it was the entry of Douglas Booth's Romeo chipping away at a stone figure of Rosaline, his current love, in an artist's workshop that raised more than a glimmer of interest. Was ever a portrayer of the role more handsome! And this coming from a pretty 'straight' viewer! Just imagine his effect on all those Juliets in the audience! I have to admit to finding him the more engaging partner, hardly matched by a no more than pretty Juliet, who rather gabbles her lines and is, well, little more than average school dramatic society material. By now I am aware that I am hardly writing a review of something of a terrific film, so what makes it so outstanding? It can be summed up in the one word - passion. This version concentrates on the lovers to the exclusion of much else such as the groundings humour of Mercutio here played absolutely seriously as is Lesley Manville's pragmatically intelligent Nurse. For once,in Paul Giametti's outstanding portrayal, we can really feel the tragedy of Friar Lawrence's ghastly misguided solution to saving the young lovers which serves to drive the action forward to those tragic deaths presented with such moving intensity. It all culminates in a truly great moment when the young Benvolio clasps the dead lovers hands together. Not Shakespeare but nevertheless a masterstroke. As a bonus we are treated to beautifully shot locations. At one point where the lovers depart from one another on a riverbank the image is ravishing. The main quarrel of its detractors seems to be copious liberties with the playwright's text. There is no question but this is an adaptation in the same way as Kurosawa's "Throne of Blood" and "Ran" both of which are reverenced by cineastes yet contain not a line of Shakespeare. Why all the furious reactions to this version? Remembering the derision than was heaped against Powell and Pressburger's marvellous "Gone to Earth" when it first appeared in the early 1950's but has now achieved deserved recognition, I put it that Carlo's Carlei's "Romeo and Juliet" is possibly a film before its time. Sadly I shall not be around in a few decade's time to say, "I told you so."
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
If you love the play (as I do), my guess is that you'll not be disposed
to like this version. The screenwriter, Julian Fellowes, takes some
pretty significant liberties with Shakespeare's original text, which
consistently left me wincing when I anticipated a line, only to hear a
paraphrased version. I hate to sound all snooty and say you shouldn't
mess with Shakespeare (I'm sure it's not perfect) but I would think a
screenwriter would set a pretty high standard for changing what the
Bard wrote, and based on the number of changed lines, I get the feeling
that Fellowes set the bar pretty low. It's the language of the play
that makes it so wonderful to me. The general story itself never
interested me until I read the play and similarly themed stories (such
as West Side Story) have never captured my interest. I don't buy that
the language is too hard for modern audiences: even the most opaque
puns and outdated language can be translated to audiences via acting
and directing. And almost everyone has probably read (or was supposed
to have read) the play in high school, so it's not as if this is going
to be the first exposure to the play for most people.
There were also bizarre changes or additions that didn't make any sense to me. A tournament to start the film? What did that add to the story besides having a scene with mounted knights and lances? Mercutio a Montague rather than the Prince's family? OK, not sure what that accomplished. Benvolio and Rosaline at Capulet's ball? Maybe that would have been more interesting if Romeo hadn't already moved on, but it just seemed strange. The Tybalt-Juliet scene after the ball?
One thing that puzzled me was that Mercutio never felt like an important character. His major Queen Mab speech was cut short and it seemed that there was more effort to establish Romeo and Benvolio's friendship than Romeo and Mercutio's. I feel like the director made this effort to make Benvolio a larger character, which I think made for some powerful scenes at the end of the movie, but when this is at the expense of Mercutio's character, who is one of the few really interesting/dynamic characters in the play, I felt that was a mistake.
One odd criticism that I've seen in a number of reviews is that Douglas Booth was too pretty, or prettier than Juliet, and this was somehow a problem or a distraction. This is hardly a new dynamic as I would say that both Leonardo DiCaprio and Leonard Whiting were 'prettier' than their respective Juliets (who were both lovely!) which I don't think was a problem in either of those films. My take is this has a lot to do with how R&J movies are marketed at teenage girls as their prime audience and that a 'beautiful' Romeo is what you do to sell seats at the theatre.
In the end, I don't think that Haillee Steinfeld was a strong enough actress for Juliet. This is probably the hardest role in the play, covering a huge emotional range and demonstrating significant changes and maturation in the character over the course of the play. She seems to be reading lines and not adding any emotion or inflection most of the time. I just never felt that she was quite there. Booth was fine as Romeo, not great, but not bad.
And just once, I'd love to see a movie where they can't touch or kiss during the balcony scene (which is what the text of the play makes clear). Or at least take out the line 'What satisfaction canst though have tonight?' which makes no sense if they're in physical contact.
To say some positive things: the setting and cinematography was beautiful, as many have said Lord Capulet was well played as was the Nurse I think. I thought that Benvolio was well played although the actor was distractingly way younger looking than Romeo, Mercutio, Tybalt etc. I like that they kept the scene in where Romeo kills Paris as that was not in the Zeffirelli or Lurhmann versions.
Overall, I just don't think this version offered anything new or interesting. The Luhrmann version did this and thus I think was worthwhile. I don't see any reason why this would replace the Zeffirelli version as the cannon version of the movie.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Came into this with low expectations and still ended up disappointed.
The leads, Douglas Booth and Hailee Steinfeld - played their parts like
they're in a school play. Their Romeo and Juliet lacked chemistry and
the passion that was supposed to drive the story was underwhelming.
The additional scenes and original dialogue changes were unnecessary and kind of grating but not as much as the seriously miscast Hailee Steinfeld who couldn't handle the dialogue and rushed her delivery. Douglas Booth, on the other hand, did okay and was so distractingly pretty - even prettier than beautiful Hailee. Ed Westwick as Tybalt was over the top as he brooded and flared his nostrils like straight out of a telenovela.
The bright spots were Paul Giammati who was engaging and funny, as well as Lesley Manville, Kodi Smit-McPhee and Damian Lewis. The scenery was stunning and the costume/makeup were pretty good except for Westwick's Professor Snape wig which I swear drew some laughter from my theater.
All in all, the acting was mediocre but the bad direction and writing were the downfall of this film.
This movie was very well made. The cinematography, acting, music,
script, costume design, and set design were all well done. However,
this movie lacked heart and soul. It lacked suspense or intensity,
which was what Romeo and Juliet supposed to be about. It cut much of
the swordfighting action and the music, while good, was underwhelming.
That is actually thebest word to describe this whole movie.
Underwhelming. Every scene I felt could have been done better if they
had just performed more dramatically or if the music was more intense,
or if the composition was more close-up.
Romeo and Juliet is a masterwork of irony and this movie took it out completely. It was so rushed in a way that felt distant and just trying to push through it. It never settled at moments and it pains me to watch it. The only good scene was at the end when they killed themselves because of Paul Giamatti's performance.
God, and I thought the 1998 version was bad, this one is even worse. Watch the 1968 version for the good Romeo and Juliet.
Everyone seems to get their panties in a twist over the fact that
Fellowees changed the dialogue. While I admit that this seems a tad
egotistical, it's not altogether illogical. The real problem isn't even
that he left things out (indeed, unlike many adaptions, Rosalind and
Paris were kept, as well as the death of Paris). But rendering and
adding things is not seen as appropriate.
But let's face it; Elizabethan Theatre is an entirely different writing medium to modern film adaption. There are a number of things that had to happen in those days. Notice they say 'I die' every time someone dies? They talk about their feelings an exceptional amount? And there are other near invisible things that would be entirely different. Shakespeare may have been a genius, but if you pulled up an unknown script of a similar level of genius from this era and made a word for word film, I doubt you could expect a great audience reaction. I've seen kids literally sleep through Polanski's Macbeth and even shrug at Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet (except when they were noting the lead's similarities to Zefron), yet be highly engaged by the stage performance of the play.
Visually, this film is utterly gorgeous. Whoever chose the locations deserves a french kiss from the world. From the first shots of Juliet running in her orange dress, the audience is stunned by the use of colour and scenery. The costumes were great (I don't think anyone was complaining when we saw a gorgeous Douglas Booth is an open white shirt chiseling away). The hair was to die for and the acting wasn't so bad as everyone makes out. Fact is, everyone's used to it being acted VERY Shakespearean. Which isn't how films work. If you're asking for that style of acting, you ought to see the play and burn the movie. The actors here took a more naturalistic approach, which seems flat, but that's probably because it's naturalistic and this is Elizabethan theatre in a period adaption for a 21st century audience. Are we seeing where some things are bound to get tangled?
That all said, there are two things that I can't justify:
- Far too much kissing. Like all the time. It felt like too much sometimes. A lot. This is probably where people see the lack of chemistry, because the kisses seem to come out of nowhere, are accompanied with virtually no crescendo musical masterpieces or great camera shots, and are usually cock-blocked by the nurse.
- Unless your students are well versed in the play, this shouldn't be the go to for schools studying Romeo and Juliet. Let's face it; a lot of kids don't exactly read the whole play, might write things in their essays that only happened in the movie if they watch it. The thing that everyone complains about (the adding of lines) is only truly detrimental here. The other versions (Baz's and Zeffirelli's) only omitted things, rather than adding things, and is a lot safer for educational purposes.
If you're not studying it; if you haven't studied it to the point at which added lines would make you feel ill; if you aren't an absurd prat about purist R&J (keep Shakespeare Shakespearean? I don't even...), then this is a good movie. And Booth is delectable. Always.
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