Shakespeare for Idiots 

Snoozing Through a Dumbed-Down Romeo and Juliet

ROMEO AND JULIET Looks like SOMEBODY is  a third wheel.

ROMEO AND JULIET Looks like SOMEBODY is a third wheel.

EVERYBODY KNOWS the story of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. So how do you liven up a 400-year-old story that everybody's forced to wade through in high school English? Well, Baz Luhrmann did it in 1996's Romeo + Juliet, with beautiful cinematography, a modern setting, and excellent casting.

But this Romeo and Juliet is much more conventional: Directed by Carlo Carlei, it's set in Shakespearean times in Renaissance Italy. To the chagrin of Shakespeare academics, it uses the playwright's original plot, but its screenplay is new: This Romeo and Juliet maintains the Elizabethan English, but Shakespeare's dialogue has been dumbed-down, simplified, and reworked by Julian Fellowes, the creator of Downton Abbey. But an even bigger problem is that, for a movie about lusty teenagers, Romeo and Juliet is decidedly unsexy—there's nary a hint of nudity or sexual tension. While there are ways to achieve tension without making a teenaged skin flick, this movie doesn't even try to do that—it just plays it safe, in every sense of the word.

The casting is... okay. Douglas Booth (who you don't remember from Miley Cyrus's LOL) plays the chisel-chinned Romeo, while True Grit's Hailee Steinfeld plays Juliet. Thankfully, Steinfeld is close to the appropriate age of Juliet; as such, she represents the target audience of this movie. (This Romeo and Juliet shamelessly gropes at the wallets of young millennials who probably haven't had the pleasure of SparkNoting Shakespeare yet; the trailer rolls with a corny "#FORBIDDENLOVE" banner plastered across the bottom. I half expected the hashtag to be flashed onscreen during the film.)

Romeo and Juliet isn't without two amusing aspects, however: Friar Laurence, played by Paul Giamatti (whose bumpy, bug-eyed face is a welcome contrast to the rest of the cast's sleek smoothness), and the booger that I'm pretty sure I spotted in the hi-def nose of Mercutio (Christian Cooke), as he lay on the ground, fatally stabbed, blood dripping from his mouth.

Romeo & Juliet
Rated PG-13 · 118 minutes · 2013
Director: Carlo Carlei
Producer: Simon Bosanquet, Lawrence Elman, Julian Fellowes, Ileen Maisell, Alexander Koll, Doug Mankoff, Andrew Spaulding, Dimitra Tsingou and Nadja Swarovski
Cast: Douglas Booth, Hailee Steinfeld, Ed Westwick, Christian Cooke, Paul Giamatti, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Lesley Manville, Tomas Arana, Laura Morante, Damian Lewis, Natascha McElhone, Tom Wisdom, Stellan Skarsgard, Leon Vitali, Nathalie Gomez and Anton Alexander

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