Did anyone back in High School actually enjoy watching their classmates awkwardly act out William Shakespeare plays in English class? Watching teenagers blandly recite dialogue that they didn’t fully understand and all the fun that comes with that. Well, if that was actually a good time to you (or you’ve never seen a straight Shakespeare adaptation before), then this take on Romeo & Juliet might actually be of some interest to you. Otherwise, what director Carlo Carlei and writer Julian Fellowes have here is pretty much a bore. The cast is really hit and miss, with Hailee Steinfeld doing a mostly solid job as Juliet and Paul Giamatti embracing a supporting role with a degree of gusto, but with Douglas Booth kind of outright bombing as Romeo. It never quite becomes cringe worthy, but the film is long on length and short on passion. It feels like this was something people felt they had to do, not something they wanted to. Shakespeare adaptations are always a tricky proposition, especially when the filmmakers are not opting to modernize or put a new spin on the work, but even by lower standards this new version of Romeo & Juliet just isn’t up to snuff. Quite frankly, it had no reason to even exist.
I was going to actually give a plot synopsis here like I usually do, but then I realized that we’re talking about Romeo & Juliet. Does anyone not know what the story is about? Especially considering how there are no changes made to it this time out, it felt kind of silly to repeat that. Instead, I was tempted to be silly and pretend that this was really the story of the unrequited love between former NFL Head Coach of the Cleveland Browns/Kansas City Chiefs Romeo Crennel and actress Juliette Binoche. Honestly, that would have been a more interesting movie for me to watch than this one. In all seriousness though, this is the classic story of young lovers from two warring families. They still struggle to be together, marry in secret, and fall victim to tragedy. That’s all there…if only there was some new and compelling reason to watch it. Suffice to say, there’s simply not one.
Had there been any particularly top tier performances on hand here, at least I would have had something to hold on to. Instead, we see Hailee Steinfeld doing an acceptable Juliet an Douglas Booth doing a Twilight franchise version of Romeo. The former is perfectly fine, though not as good as you’d have hoped for. The latter however, is a real disappointment. While Steinfeld is a middle of the road Juliet, Booth is one of the poorer Romeos to come along in some time. He’s moody and emo-like in a way that just doesn’t fit for the character. If there’s a performance worth admiring, it’s Paul Giamatti, who seems to at least be having fun in his role as Friar Laurence. Gimatti can’t save the flick, but he livens it up here and there. None of the supporting players leave an impact, but they are at least filled with recognizable faces like Damian Lewis, Natascha McElhone, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Lesley Manville, Ed Westwick, and Stellan Skarsgård (who essentially cameos), among others. No one there impressed me, but then again, that goes for the entire cast essentially.
Director Carlei is competent enough, though he does make some rather odd decisions. The film looks good, but the score at times comes on way too loudly and strongly, calling unnecessary attention to itself. Also, there’s a distinct lack of extras around, making Verona rather deserted. That’s not a big complaint, but it does keep this from looking as lavish as Carlei intended it to. He also doesn’t seem to have much to do for the cast, letting them interpret the material as they see fit, which resulted in some just delivering their lines without knowing what they were saying. As for Fellowes, he basically just trimmed the play to movie length, adding nothing of note. This overall lackluster approach is pretty much par for the course here. Everyone is making an effort, but not one that does much for the flick.
In the end, Romeo & Juliet is never out and out a terrible remake, but it is however a rather pointless and overall soulless one. It doesn’t seem to have a reason to exist or a believable purpose. Had a more visionary director or an exciting cast been involved, things might have turned out a little bit different. As it stands though, this is one forgettable interpretation of the Bard. Move along, there’s nothing worth seeing here…
–Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!