Grae's Rating:

3.5

Romeo + Juliette - drama.

I have an idealized vision of how I deal with tragedy. Inside my head, everything is clear and organized and I am always my best self. I express myself completely and with compassion, acting as the anchor for everyone around me, and when I look at back at things, I always feel proud of how I carried myself. Of course the reality is actually rivers of snot running down my face; incomplete, shrill sentences; and frantic hand gestures. The nice part about Declaration of War, a story about parents dealing with their baby's brain tumor diagnosis, is that their experience is halfway between my fantasy and reality. Most movies choose one or the other, but the characters and story are very unique in the world of cinema de sickness, which allowed me to experience this difficult topic in a completely new way.

Here, Romeo and Juliette don't waste any time courting and having a baby. (Surprisingly, their Shakespearian names and their Frenchness don't even figure into the story.) Generally, this doesn't bode well, and when they hear the devastating news about his health, it's easy to assume how the rest of the movie is going to go. They treat the situation as a challenge that is to be pragmatically and compassionately dealt with, and it weaves them together as an even tighter unit. Through endless streams of doctors, silly hospital rules, panicked grandparents, sleepless nights and hazmat uniforms, they just keep their eye on the prize with a surprising amount of lightheartedness. Although disagreements and frustration are present, Romeo and Juliette are a wonderful example for everyone--and they're not even annoying while doing it. Co-writers Jérémie Elkaïm and Valérie Donzelli based the story on their own lives with their son, which makes me wonder what elements are true to life, and which they re-wrote to rectify history. It all rings so true that whatever happened in real life is anyone's guess.

Some people call bouncing, almost alive, camerawork set to strangely magnetic pop songs "verite," but I just call it "the only thing the French do better than fries." Here, all of their nods to French cinema of old perfectly supports what their characters are doing--living among sadness with a sweet dose of optimism. Sure, there are fluorescent lights and linoleum floors, but there's also smoky parties filled with crass friends, gorgeous Parisian streets and bottles of champagne. With all of this unexpected sunshine, including goofy but incredibly heartfelt songs sung by the main characters, their story is actually a great triumph of the human spirit. They've redefined the two star-crossed lovers as a well-balanced duo that can take on anything without making it too dramatic.

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