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Romeo & Juliet (A PopEntertainment.com Movie Review)

Romeo & Juliet


Starring Hailee Steinfeld, Douglas Booth, Damian Lewis, Paul Giamatti, Ed Westwick, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Lesley Manville, Natascha McElhone, Christian Cooke and Stellan Skarsgård.

Screenplay by Julian Fellowes.

Directed by Carlo Carlei.

Distributed by Relativity Media. 118 minutes. Rated PG-13.

William Shakespeare’s classic love tragedy Romeo & Juliet has been filmed so many times over the years (and that’s not even taking into consideration the thousands of stagings) that there is very little left to add to the mix.

It was made as a silent film (in fact, it was made as a silent at least seven times between 1907 and 1916).  It was made in Yiddish and Palestinian (and most other languages).  It has been made for theaters.  It has been made for television.  It has been done as an opera.  It has been done as a burlesque.  It has been done as a western.  It has been the basis of a smash musical (West Side Story).  It has been political farce (Romanoff & Juliet). It has been the basis of a kid’s film (Gnomeo & Juliet).  It has been made into soft core (The Secret Love Lives of Romeo and Juliet).  It has been done in the world of breakdancing (Romeo & Julio).  It has been done as a zombie movie (Romeo & Juliet vs. the Living Dead).  It has been done with Popeye and Olive Oyl as the main characters.

In fact, according to Wikipedia, the play has been filmed 41 times as a straight adaptation, with an additional 120 or so films that were based on the story.  That is an average of almost one and a half versions of the story filmed per year for the last 107 years.

However, usually every generation or so the story has even been transformed into hyper-stylized mega-romantic wannabe blockbuster, despite the story’s rather old-fashioned sensibilities and Shakespeare’s rather dense language.  The last two times it even pretty much worked: Baz Luhrmann’s hyperactively colorful 1999 version with Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes and Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 new wave take with Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting.

Therefore the latest attempt at getting the star-crossed lovers some box office love had to take it into a different direction.  And to this film’s credit, they have done just that, by retreating into the text of the classic play.

Romeo & Juliet is a mostly rather faithful and old-fashioned, if somewhat streamlined, take on the well-worn text.  It is not about high concept or dumbing down, it is mostly just a well-filmed version of a classic play.  The film deserves great kudos also for actually filming in Verona, the Italian town which was the setting of the play, because the film looks truly stunning. 

And while they may have made some concessions for the youth market – Romeo and most of his friends look like underwear models – this Romeo & Juliet is actually a perfectly fine adaptation of the classic work. 

True, Downton Abbey scribe Julian Fellowes did modify the Bard’s text a bit to make the story more palatable to a modern audience, but it is not blatant enough to raise many eyebrows of people who are not slavishly reverent to the play.

While it is no surprise that the film did not receive a huge response when it received its theatrical release this past October, with the video release Romeo & Juliet will probably build upon its following.  I don’t suppose it will ever become anyone’s favorite telling of the story, nor will it become anyone’s favorite film.  However, I’ll bet that it will become a standard in high school English classes for years to come.  Or at least until the next time someone makes Romeo & Juliet.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2014 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: February 4, 2014.


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