Despite the fact that there are plenty of well known actors in this latest adaptation of the William Shakespeare play I doubt that it will launch a spike in interest in the work of the Bard. The biggest reason for the film’s failure to ignite is the lack of chemistry between the two young leads Hailee Steinfeld and Douglas Booth. All the minor flaws of Carli Carlei’s (Fluke) film could be forgiven if Romeo and Juliet created heat. They don’t so really your investment in them ending up together falls flat as such making the whole film rather pointless. A romance with no chemistry.
A tale as old as time. A girl (Hailee Steinfeld – True Grit – 2010) fall in love with a boy (Douglas Booth – LOL). The problem is that the two families are bitter enemies. It is forbidden love, but they cannot stop themselves. The two young people secretly wed without their families knowing. Soon after a series of events begin that lead to a tragic end.
When another Shakespeare adaptation comes out on the big screen and especially when it is one like Romeo & Juliet that has been done several times previous you find yourself wondering if it is necessary. Unless you are bringing a fresh interpretation of the story then it all seems rather pointless. The attempt at fresh is made by the script being tinkered with by Julian Fellowes (Downton Abbey, Gosford Park). Despite the fact that many out there are cringing at the thought of someone trying to improve the words of Shakespeare some of it actually works. He fills in some of the holes and leaves in most of the great lines of the play. What he does, and actually seemed like a good idea in the producers’ office, is simplify a lot of the language. So much so at times it takes you out of the whole Shakespeare state of mind. It has to be remembered that modern is not always better.
Not only does heat never result from the Booth-Steinfeld coupling but she seems to have a lot of difficulty with the language (even with the aforementioned “lightening” up). At times, not to be cruel, but it is almost as if she is spitting out marbles from her mouth. Awkward! I think she even realizes that she is not reaching the bar as she says her lines so quickly that it is hard to catch what she is saying. She totally gets lost in the role and her director does nothing to save her. Being the central character of the play/film that means the romantic tragedy becomes solely tragic.
What does work is the supporting cast. They are all above average. Paul Giamatti is especially good. His turn as Friar Laurence is almost worth the price of admission alone. It was not at all a surprise that former Royal Shakespeare Company member Damian Lewis is great as Lord Capulet. He is up to the task of playing the vain and sometimes extreme father of Juliet.
Another strong facet of the film is the costumes. They are stunning. All opulent and colourful, they are a treat for the eyes. Well supported by the sets and frescos aplenty.