Latest Romeo & Juliet Offers No Pardons, Plenty of Punishment
The woe of director Carlo Carlei’s (The Flight of the Innocent) and screenwriter Julian Fellowes’ (Gosford Park, The Tourist) adaptation of William Shakespeare’s timeless and immortal tragic love story Romeo & Juliet is just how banal and unbearably schmaltzy it is. They have taken the Bard’s iconic play and transformed it into something overbearing and unbearable, smothering the text, the performances and the drama into layer upon layer of bombast and melodrama making the movie version itself close to unwatchable.
The story itself should be familiar enough. In fair Verona where we lay our scene, the Capulets and the Montagues are constantly at one another’s throats. The Prince (Stellan Skarsgård) is through with the bickering between the families, and on pain of death he orders them to leave one another alone. Which is better said than done when Romeo Montague (Douglas Booth) lays eyes on the fair Juliet Capulet (Hailee Steinfeld) and she on him. They are instantly smitten with one another, running off to Friar Laurence (Paul Giamatti) to marry them without their respective parents’ knowledge.
Everyone, even those unfamiliar with the play itself, probably know what happens next. Tragedy begets tragedy, chaos breeds more chaos, everything building to a complex plan on the part of the Friar to fake Juliet’s death in order for Romeo to secretly whisk her away thus allowing them to continue with their lives away from the glare of their families. It goes wrong, painfully, horribly, beyond comprehension, and as love stories go their finale ends up being as devastating and as tearful as anything anyone has ever imagined.
So, the first issue is with Fellowes’ odd, disjointed script. The shifts between iambic pentameter and newly composed bits of dialogue are odd, sometimes ill-fitting, creating a jarring ambiance that feels decidedly unnatural. Then there is Carlei’s operatic direction, suffocating the proceedings with visual histrionics that call more attention to what he’s doing behind the camera than what is going on in front of it. Couple all of that with Abel Korzeniowski’s (A Single Man) omnipresent score that overwhelms everything it touches and the effect all of this has on the film itself is mind-blowing. This Romeo & Juliet is a calamity in almost every way, and considering the source material that’s about as surprising a statement as any I could ever have hoped to utter.
I can’t tell if the central performances are anything to get excited about one way or the other, Carlei never allowing either Steinfeld or Booth to break through or have a quiet honest moment thanks to all the visual and musical chaos constantly swirling around them. Same goes for the rest of the admittedly high-powered cast, and while actors as varied as Giamatti, Damian Lewis (as Lord Capulet), Lesley Manville (as Juliet’s Nurse), Christian Cooke (the dashing Mercutio) and Ed Westwick (the vicious Tybalt) have their moments just not enough of them to matter.
There’s so much here that sent me round the bend I almost don’t know where to start. The constant Renaissance era imagery splashed across the screen during Romeo and Juliet’s marriage (complete with CGI interiors that make the consistently silly effects on “Once Upon a Time” look positively Emmy-worthy), the haphazard cutting of the Mercutio-Tybalt-Romeo face-off, the way he allows Korzeniowski’s score to saturate every single scene, all of it is beyond the scope of what the viewer should be allowed to tolerate. Even the climactic graveside meeting between our two star-crossed lovers is a disaster, the only tear worthy of being shed is one for the Bard himself probably rolling over in his grave in complete disgust.
I can’t quite describe the full extent of just how completely this take on Romeo & Juliet disappointed and infuriated me. The choices that are made, the directions that the film goes in, many of them just feel so nonsensical and so ill-conceived the fact such talented filmmakers decided to go there makes no sense at all. While I won’t call it the worst film I’ve seen in 2013, the fact this new adaptation made me feel like fortune’s fool and that a pox had been shoveled unceremoniously upon me aren’t exactly positives which would lead me to profess anything close to love.
Film Rating: 1½ (out of 4)