Dave's Rating:


... and Juliet is, like, the sun.

The moment is coming very soon when a lazy 14-year-old high school freshman will reject the idea of reading Romeo and Juliet before the test. That kid will attempt to cram quickly by watching this tweened-up and dumbed down attempt at jolting some insta-life back into Shakespeare's Twilight. At that point s/he will fail and discover that the author's original text didn't include dialogue like, "You have good taste in men" and "My back is killing me." It will, for that young person, be a moment of deep education. Screenwriter of all things fancy, Julian Fellowes, whose freelance contract with Satan includes a crystal ball to watch this sort of thing happen IRL from his well-appointed lair, will smile mirthlessly as he puts the finishing touches on the fifth season of Downton Abbey, the season future TV viewers will remember as the one where the cuddly aristocrats liquidate the estate and distribute their fortune in equal portions to the servants because they love them all so veddy, veddy much.

So sure, whatever, I get it. Everybody likes to molest Mr. Shakespeare. It's almost your duty, when you're geniusly glue-gunning your own perspective onto these old-ass plays, to crank up a new spin on whatever property you've decided to adapt and "freshen up." But if you're going to be bold, then be bold. Really electrocute that thing, Baz Luhrmann-style, drown it in RedBull and Pop Rocks and make everybody sing "When Doves Cry." Don't sleepwalk, keep it period, save the "did my heart love till now" parts, the puffy shirts and hats that look like chess pieces, and then logjam some "Shakespearishy" bits into the middle of every fifth sentence to make it easier to understand. Not understanding that earlier version of English is part of the sport of enjoying this sort of thing in the first place; it forces opens your ears and you learn to live with that beautiful new-old language. Otherwise you're left with the gross spectacle of infatuated children committing suicide over one another. Nobody wants that.

For cave-dwellers: Romeo (Douglas Booth) is a Montague, the family at war with the Capulets. Juliet (Hailee Steinfeld) is a Capulet. They fall in love, they marry in secret, they die. It's the soap opera that launched a million other soap operas and it was perhaps inevitable that Fellowes, the current reigning master of the snooty soap game (along with director Carlo Carlei), would have a go at it. But somewhere along the way it turned to lifeless, passionless, personality-free mush, one with freely-added extra material possibly Tweeted by Fellowes to a distracted personal assistant, then crafted into a direct-to-streaming production with the glorious good looks of a budget-strapped episode of The Borgias, every line of dialogue recorded during craft services-inspired gastric distress. And, it bears repeating, I've seen the version starring anthropomorphic cartoon seals, Romeo & Juliet: Sealed With a Kiss, so I'm not just coming from nowhere here.

Somebody with a burning desire and vision for Shakespeare at the helm next time, please; otherwise I pray thee knock it off.


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