Take a Drink: for fucking awful sound effects
Take a Drink: for dramatic poses
Take a Drink: for TV exposition
Take a Drink: for every classic line you remember from school
Take a Drink: whenever Juliet’s maid screeches her name
Do a Shot: for major character deaths
By: Henry J. Fromage (Four Beers) –
When Baz Luhrmann set out to adapt Romeo and Juliet, you knew that it was going to be something brassy, brash, and out of the norm. His approach was to imagine what kind of movie Shakespeare himself would make to entertain the masses. He was a quintessential showman on the good hand…
…and on the bad, this was his audience.
Romeo + Juliet updates the classic play to a quasi-modern, heightened “Verona Beach”, California setting, with the Capulets and Montagues re-imagined as feuding gangs, but all of the original dialogue and narration of the play retained.
We’ve seen quite a few updated setting/original script Shakespeare adaptations over the years, from Michael Almereyda’s uneven Hamlet to Ralph Fiennes’s rather excellent Coriolanus, but as usual, few directors can match the dizzying visuals of a Baz Luhrmann spectacular. His Verona Beach is a candy-colored daydream, kinetic, ridiculous, but often extremely beautiful. The set design, from his longtime professional and life partner, Catherine Martin, is, as always, incredible, and Kym Barrett’s costuming is eye-catching. The cinematography from DP Donald McAlpine, especially when the editing relaxes and lets it really make an impression, is similarly top-notch.
Acting-wise, the strength of a Romeo and Juliet adaptation relies almost entirely on its leads, and baby-faced Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes do not disappoint. Both would of course go on to do better work, but you can see the foundations of their success here. My favorite cast-member, though, is hands-down Harold Perrineau as Mercutio. He has energy for days, and performs the difficult trick of breathing new life into old words, arguably the only actor to do that in this film. Oh, and of course Paul Rudd nails his first stab at Bobby Newport.
Attractive and vapid? Nailed it!
Well, somebody watched Natural Born Killers… This film is cut to an inch of its life, but without any of the relevance of its clear inspiration. This editing overload also creates some frankly impressive shrill anti-comedy, like, well, everything having to do with Juliet’s mother.
Let’s go back to the thesis of the introduction for a second. By masses, Luhrmann apparently means dumb mouth-breathing punters, like, you know, Shakespeare’s audience, because for the life of me I can’t imagine who else would think sub-morning drive radio show sound effects are funny. Apparently Luhrmann didn’t imagine what the common audience today likes so much as what an English peasant Encino Man’d into the present day would.
How exceedingly droll! *loud fart*
He also has zero confidence in our ability to follow the story or his exceedingly clever updates to it. See: the character title cards (Juliet’s Mother, Romeo’s Father, etc.), or the closeups on and allusions to gun brands.
How exceedingly illuminating! *longer, wetter fart*
Rome + Juliet betrays just how low Baz Luhrmann’s opinion of mainstream cinema is, but rises above that in acting and world-building enough to make it worth the watch.