Thursday, April 18, 2013

R + J = UGH

Romeo + Juliet
Director: Baz Luhrman
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Claire Danes, John Leguizamo, Harold Perrineau, Pete Postlethwaite, Paul Rudd, Jesse Bradford
Released: November 1, 1996

Oscar nominations:
Best Art Direction-Set Direction (lost to The English Patient)

Spoilers for a 500 year old story! 

I first saw this movie in the theaters when I was a teenager. I went with my friend who I had been talking to on the phone (a landline, not a cellphone, mind you - ah, 1996!) and she asked me if I had seen this movie and when I said no, she said, "OMG, we must see this now!" It was her third time seeing it and God knows if she saw it anymore times after that! I really don't remember what my reaction to the film was. I remembered being intrigued by the little twist where Romeo takes the poison because he thinks Juliet is dead, but just after he took it, she wakes up and takes his hand. I have never read the William Shakespeare play, but it doesn't exactly happen like that, right?  But I can't remember if I liked the film or hated it....honestly, I think I was just indifferent to it. This film was made for teenagers in mind so maybe because I was one the first time I saw it, I didn't have as strong of a reaction as when I saw it the second time 17 years later. (And by the way, this film is now as old as Claire Danes was when she filmed it). Maybe my teenaged brain was able to accept it and enjoy it and because this movie does have some odd nostalgia factor for me, I do like it for that, but rewatching this movie, I thought it was pretty terrible and I hated most of it.

Even though this movie takes place in "modern" times, there was really no need to update this movie as aren't every movie about a forbidden romance between two people an updated version of "Romeo and Juliet?" And there's a million movies that follow that format I could name, with Titanic, starring Romeo himself, being one of them.

Postlethwaite = MVP of R+ J
If you recall Moulin Rouge!, the film Baz Luhrman is best known for (cuz it sure ain't Australia!), that movie moves in a fast, frenzied, chaotic pace. R+J is the same way but it's almost more obnoxious because it's based on a William Shakespeare play. There are many quick cuts (because, mind you, this movie was made for teenagers and they don't have a long attention span so you need to keep everything moving, moving, moving!)  It is updated to a modern take but the actors still speak in Shakespearean dialogue. Everything rhymes and it doesn't sound natural. It almost sounds like a parody. The only person who I could buy speaking in this dialogue and who really brought it was Pete Postlethwaite who plays the priest. He was by far the most interesting character and my favorite one. I enjoyed how his choir sang their own rendition of Prince's "When Doves Cry". Speaking of the music, that was a very big part of this movie. The soundtrack was really popular back in the day (I didn't own it, but I did have a compilation CD with "Kissing You" by Des'ree on it). I have a funny story to share about one of the songs: I listen to this podcast called Redemption Cast which covers each episode of the TV series, Angel, the Buffy the Vampire Slayer spin-off with David Boreanaz. (Their podcast of Buffy is called Potential Cast - it's very good; if you're a fan of Buffy, I highly recommend it). Anyway, on Redemption Cast they (there are four or five people who discuss it) were trying to come up with a theme song within the first few episodes. On one episode, this guy chooses a song called "Angel" by Gavin Friday which is featured in R+J. The guy is singing with a high-pitched voiced saying, "Aaaaan-geelllll, hooooolld ooonnn toooo meeee." It's really hard to describe without listening to it, so I highly recommend that you Youtube or Spotify the song and just listen to the first 30 seconds and you'll understand why everyone on the podcast and myself were cracking up so much when this song was played as a potential theme song for the podcast. (They went with the theme song to Angel for their theme song and just wrote their own lyrics for it if anyone cares....I kinda wish they had stuck with the awful "Angel" song!)


I should probably mention by now that Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes play our star-crossed lovers. If Leo had lived during Shakespearen times when male actors played both male and female parts, he could have easily played Juliet too as there is a bit of a feminine quality to him in this movie. Even though he is almost five years older than Claire Danes, he looks like he is five years younger than her and Claire looks her seventeen years, so yes, I am saying he does look twelve in this movie! Romeo and Juliet move pretty quickly as they meet, fall in love, and get married the next day. A little ridiculous if you ask me. I did think the scene where they first see each other through the glass of the aquarium was pretty cute when they were smiling at each other. It was cute puppy dog love, but I did not buy them falling in love that quickly. Yeah, yeah, I know they're Romeo and Juliet, but give me a break. I guess you cannot accuse me of being a romantic at heart! I thought it was really creepy when Juliet plans to fake her suicide the day before she is suppose to marry Paris and before she goes to bed, says to her mother, "Farewell - God knows when when we should meet again."  If someone ever said that to me, it would send a bit of a warning bell!


I already mentioned Pete Postlethwaite as being one of the supporting actors in this movie, but there's also the totally random and odd choice of actors who play the parents. As Mr. and Mrs. Capulet (Juliet's parents) is Paul Sorvino and Diane Venora (perhaps she was chosen because her last name is an anagram of "Verona?") As Mr. and Mrs. Montague (Romeo's parents) is Brian Dennehy and Christina Pickles, best known for playing Monica's and Ross's mother on Friends. Then you have John Leguizamo as Tybalt, the leader of the Capulet gang; Jamie Kennedy as Sampson, the leader of the Montague gang (and for the record, the Capulet gang looked tougher as the Montague gang was compromised of a lot of sunglasses and Hawaiian shirts); Lost's Harold Perrineau as Romeo's flamboyant best friend, Mercutio (the slow-mo of Leo's angry face when he's driving his car after Mercutio dies lends for a comically hilarious scene);  Paul Rudd as Paris, the guy Juliet is supposed to marry; and Bring It On's Jesse Bradford as Balthasar who tells Romeo that Juliet has died. (I guess he didn't get the memo that she wasn't really dead!)

The movie starts with its own little trailer as the beginning is a news report of what happened to the young lovers and gives a little synopsis of what happened to them. So really, you only need to watch the first two minutes of this movie and you've seen it all!

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