Screened Out – Romeo and Juliet

By : Stephen Miller
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Douglas Booth, Hailee Steinfeld, Ed Westwick, Paul Giamatti, Stellan Skarsgård

I’m tempted to load this review with spoilers, just to taunt those readers who didn’t graduate eighth grade.

This actually brings up a good point; if you’re going to do something that everyone knows so well, you had better do it in a new way. Think of how Baz Luhrman rendered Shakespeare’s immortal tale in 1996, or even reflect on 1961’s West Side Story. Unfortunately, this new version of Romeo and Juliet offers nothing compelling.

It loads up on extravagant period costuming and setting, and it ramps up the weepiness. Oppressively beautiful, manipulative music plays throughout, and the architecture of Old Italy is prominently featured, but you could get as much emotional pull from a pretty picture book.

Most of the acting is deathly, achingly flat. Romeo (Booth) is certainly a handsome young man, but he seems to be fashion-plating through his part, his shirt inexplicably opened in the first scene to show his muscled, young chest. Hailee Steinfeld got an Oscar nomination for True Grit, but as Juliet, she may be the worst I’ve ever seen, dead and vapid, not at all worthy of Romeo’s shifting, all-consuming love.

I don’t blame her so much as I find fault with the sudsy, tepid approach. Downton Abbey scribe Julian Fellowes tweaked the script, so it makes no surprise that this version leans toward melodrama. (I know; I love Downton Abbey, too, but, honestly, it is merely a well-made, period soap opera.)

Paul Giamatti is the only thing worth watching.

Paul Giamatti is the only thing worth watching.

Director Carlo Carlei also helmed the drippy dog story Fluke nearly two decades ago, and then after that, not much else. His filming technique and grasp of the emotion is rudimentary at best. The camera doesn’t sweep over scenes like Luhrman’s did, and there is no sexual attraction as there was in Zeffirelli’s sumptuous if reductive 1968 version.

Not that this version isn’t also weirdly edited.

Ratings Key

See it now! Buy the DVD! Quote lines at parties!

Definitely worth the price of admission

It’s useful as a distraction

Maybe if someone else pays and you need a nap

Slightly worse than eternal damnation

The only part worth watching here is Paul Giamatti’s Friar Lawrence. For those of us who forgot, he’s the man who secretly marries the star-crossed lovers and then helps them set up the wrong-headed scheme to be together eternally. (And we all know how that worked out. In fact, another, and more unusual, approach to Romeo and Juliet might be examining the hare-brained scheme of Friar Lawrence and his culpability in the tragic ending.)

Fellowes and Carlei rearrange scenes and put Giamatti so forward in this film, it’s distracting; it’s as if they know their young lovers and two hotheaded swordfights hold less interest than a gardening man of God.

That’s not what Shakespeare intended; he wanted an aching, absorbing story about fiery young lovers torn apart by a feudal war. Romeo and Juliet got one single night of passion; the Bard and moviegoers can’t even get two hours.

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