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Romeo and Juliet

by Louise Adams
Tuesday Feb 18, 2014
Romeo and Juliet

Director Carlo Carlei presents the 2013 SparkNotes version of "Romeo and Juliet," an unrecognizable, unforgivable hack job of Shakespeare's most popular love tragedy.

Pouty Douglas Booth is the vampire-complected Romeo, a teen improbably depicted as a Renaissance sculptor, thoughtfully chiseling marble between his o'er hasty marriage and his ill-conceived suicide. He's mismatched with beetle-browed Hailee Steinfeld as Juliet, along with a Benvolio/Balthasar amalgam played by Kodi Smit-McPhee, looking all of ten-years-old.

The trio, along with meddlesome Father Laurence (not Friar Lawrence, played by over-earnest Paul Giamatti), repine then race around impressive, real Verona and Mantua monasteries, castles and palazzos, sputtering the eviscerated storyline (only a criminal few remnants of the original text remain) and shaming their swords (their clumsy combat is obfuscated by dizzy jump cuts).

Language takes a way back seat to the look, which was produced and supervised by the Swarovski Crystal people who plug their product throughout the repetitive and limited Blu-ray extras: brief cast and crew interviews, "Creating the Look," "Hair and Makeup" (spoiler: lots of bowl cuts), and "The Filmmaker's Vision," which can be shorthanded as "fuck iambic pentameter."

Pray you, avoid it.

Without the sublime poetry, "R&J" is a bar story about a lost letter. How can we fall in love with Mercutio and his melancholic humor (one-note Christian Cooke) without his unexpurgated "Queen Mab" speech, or with the Nurse when she's teased in the marketplace? Lesley Manville has nothing with which to work, as two of the canon's superlative characters have been decimated.

Unlike Oscar-winning screenwriter Julian Fellowes ("Downtown Abbey," "Gosford Park"), who claims he made this version "simpler, more straightforward," I won't presume to paraphrase the Bard. I will use his verse verbatim to name this clusterfuck reimagining "rank and gross in nature." Somebody in the chain of command should have insisted on "more matter, with less art." Fellowes is "an "abominable villain" and his waste of "two hours' traffic" certainly "out-herods Herod."

Pray you, avoid it.

"Romeo and Juliet"

Louise Adams is a Chicago freelance writer at www.treefalls.com (and a nom de guerre).


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