There is nothing quite so tragic as to finally have the opportunity to watch a film you’ve wanted to see for years, only to find that the film you so longed for bore no resemblance in reality to the wondrous work of art conjured in your head. Such, unfortunately, is the case with Romeo + Juliet–a modernized version of Shakespeare’s tragedy from 1996, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Daines in the title roles.
I will at this point confess that I only got through about twenty minutes of this movie before shutting it off in disgust. Truthfully, I spent at least half that viewing time wondering two things: (1) “Is this actually supposed to be a comedy?”, and (2) “Are we totally certain this wasn’t directed by Quentin Tarantino??” So many weird film effects, unnecessary stop-motion or rapid-motion sequences, and truly terrible overdubs really and truly made me wonder if this movie was meant to be more farce than tragedy. And the focus on the physical action during the opening street duel, at the expense of decent delivery of the sublime language, made me wonder whether Tarantino was at the helm instead of whoever directed this thing. Although then I had to realize–there was way too little blood involved for this to truly be a Tarantino piece.
The final straw for me was watching Claire Daines’ first few lines as Juliet. Yes, I admit, I allowed all of Leo’s first scenes to play out simply because he was quite beautiful to look at in those days–all youthful, long-haired angst although obviously not understanding half of what Romeo was saying. And although his cousin Benvolio reminded me more of Biff from Back to the Future than any character worthy of having sprung from the pen of Shakespeare, still I carried on. After all, I have thought of this movie off and on for years, and I really wanted to give it a fair exposure since I had waited so long to see it. But the ridiculous daftness of Mother Capulet and the utterly vacant stare of Juliet during their first scene together finally did me in. Mother Capulet looked like some refugee from The Birdcage (although I DID enjoy John Leguizamo for as long as I watched this movie) with even more pointless camera cuts and silly rapid-motion action. And Claire Daines as Juliet was worse than bored. She was simply…not…there. At all. Worse than the dreaded “phoning it in,” she looked like a barely reanimated corpse. I couldn’t help it. I gave up.
Now please don’t misunderstand; I LOVE experiencing Shakespeare in unusual ways. Perhaps one of my favorite movies is Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead–otherwise known as “Hamlet-from-the-inside-out.” But in that film (which perhaps I will review in more detail at a later date), it was obvious that the actors understood what their characters were saying and doing, and did it accordingly. It was beautiful to watch, and incredibly witty. I really thought Romeo + Juliet had promise too, at least from the concept of a new and unexplored idea. And perhaps the idea did have merit, but the execution itself was lacking.
Or perhaps I just can’t pay attention to good Shakespearean dialogue with bad ’90s deejays scratching vinyl in the background.