Romeo + Juliet (1996)

2009-05-25 12:59
 
Romeo + Juliet

Baz Luhrmann’s big, bold flamboyance is the perfect complement to The Bard’s all-or-nothing love story.

Shakespeare gets a modern day overhaul in this 1996 teen flick that is probably more true to his intentions than some other theatrical Victorian display of the ultimate love story. Romeo + Juliet is a story of two rebellious teens, so obsessed with each other, they act irrationally in all respects. It’s not sweet or charming, but messy, complicated and unfair – just like real-life love stories.

Baz Luhrmann succeeds in proving that Shakespeare’s tales are universal and timeless by juxtaposing the original dialogue with contemporary updates of everything from the milieu to the drugs and weapons. Family feuds may be a thing of the past but young lovers today have racial, religious and financial obstacles that stand in the way of flourishing relationships. Lurhmann portrays this feud as a commercial struggle for power and influence between the two "companies" – see the Capulet advert in the lift when Fulgencio Capulet (Paul Sorvino) is discussing marriage with Dave Paris (Paul Rudd).

The smaller roles are also brought to life with idiosyncratic, often hilarious contemporary nuances. Diane Venora portrays Mrs Capulet as the original "desperate housewife" who’s irritated with having to be a mother and is far too friendly with her nephew Tybalt, played outstandingly by John Leguizamo. Pete Postlethwaite plays Father Laurence with a coolness that probably gave priests some much needed street cred at the time. His cross tattoo on his back makes for a funky rosary. The standout performance however is Harold Perrineau as drag-queen come bad-ass Mercutio. His violently passionate soliloquies hint at the fact that he’s in love with Romeo, but he’s frustrated that the feeling isn't mutual. And that’s something I definitely didn’t pick up from reading the play!

But onto our star cross’d lovers. Rumour has it that at the time, Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes didn’t get along during filming. If so, it definitely didn’t translate onto screen. Leonardo stole my heart with his floppy blonde mop and that, that smile. And he’s the only guy who’s still incredibly hot while crying his eyes out. He really is an amazing actor who knows just how to pull at your heartstrings. This coupled with his boyish charm naturally made him the perfect Romeo.

Claire Danes is suitably irritating as most teenage girls are, and she blends her innocence and infatuation to produce an adorable Juliet. From their first meeting through the fish tank to the tearful goodbye in the crypt, so much of their love is portrayed without words (despite there being a lot of those, too!). And to see it in this uber-cool, fantastical, relatable setting makes it impossible for you not to fall in love along with the characters. 

This is why Shakespeare’s stories were meant to be played, not read. Every gaze and graze of skin-on-skin needs to be seen to be felt. Luhrmann totally got this.

Since that first teacher-accompanied trip to the big screen in 1997, I’ve seen this movie upwards of 10 times. And each time I whisper under my breath for him to just look down before he drinks the poison! I also like to replay the songs. You really didn’t get the movie if Des’ree’s "Kissing You" didn’t make you tingle with emotion. In fact the whole soundtrack will put you into a giddy, euphoric state of feel-good. Listen out for "Lovefool" by the Cardigans, "#1 Crush" by Garbage and the goosebump-inducing "Everybody’s Free" by Quindon Tarver (performed during the wedding scene). And you won’t be able to sit still in your chair watching Mercutio play the dancing queen to Kym Mazelle’s "Young Hearts Run Free".

A movie to indulge the senses that also has the power to break your heart, for "Never was there a tale of more woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo."


A bit of trivia [from IMDB.com]:

  • The pool hall that Romeo and Benvolio enter is in a building called "Globe." The Globe Theatre in England was the site of William Shakespeare's original productions in Elizabethan times.
  • Second part of Baz Luhrmann's Red Curtain-trilogy. The other two parts are Strictly Ballroom (1992) and Moulin Rouge! (2001).
  • Claire Danes wears a wig throughout the movie and also had a special aquatic wig for her underwater scenes.
  • All the guns in the film are named after types of swords (e.g., the gun that Mercutio drops into the sand is called Dagger).
  • Baz Luhrmann sent British alternative-rock band Radiohead a videotape containing the last 20 minutes of the movie and asked them to make a song for the end credits. They composed the song "Exit Music (for a film)", which appeared on their 1997 album "OK Computer" (the director has said in the DVD commentary that he believes it's one of the best exit themes ever written).

Memorable quotes:

Anchorwoman: A glooming peace this morning with it brings. The sun for sorrow will not show his head. Go hence and have more talk of these sad things. Some shall be pardoned, and some punished. For never was a story of more woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo.

Father Laurence: Two households, both alike in dignity, in fair Verona, where we lay our scene. From ancient grudge break to new mutiny, where civil blood makes civil hands unclean. From forth the fatal loins of these two foes, a pair of star-crossed lovers take their life.

Romeo: Is love a tender thing? It is too rough, too rude, too boisterous, and it pricks like thorn.
Mercutio: If love be rough with you, be rough with love. Prick love for pricking and you beat love down.

Tybalt: Peace? Peace. I hate the word, as I hate hell, all Montagues, and thee.

Juliet: O, swear not by the moon, the inconstant moon, who monthly changes in her circled orb, lest that thy love prove likewise variable.
Romeo: What shall I swear by?
Juliet: Do not swear at all. Or, if thou wilt, swear by thy gracious self, which is the god of my idolatry, and I'll believe thee.


Pistols and hotrods replace daggers and horses, but love and language remain in Baz Luhrmann’s sexy revival of the greatest love story of all time.

What to read next: Buy the classic CD soundtrack

Morgan 2009/05/24 12:33 PM
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One correction - actually, it's not Jessica Lange who plays Juliet's mom, it's Diane Venora, who, now that you mention it, does look a bit like Jessica, but,alas, isn't. and while the movie looks great and is fund and loud and edgy (Baz's got flair) and so today, it's greatest shortcoming is the elocution. Just a pity that Kenneth Branagh was too old to play Romeo. While Leo and Claire, both decent actors on any other day, are young and handsome, they lack Kenneth's practised Shakepearean tongue.
Samantha 2009/05/25 8:41 AM
Morgan > well spotted, my bad, it is Diane Venora (oddly similar to Verona...hmmm).
Annie 2009/05/27 1:35 PM
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I'm 24 now. When this movie came our in 97 i just started high school @ Leo started to make sense to me then. This movie in itself is a bloody brilliant movie & even though it might not be in Kenneth's practised Shakespearean tongue, IT'S STILL BLOODY BRILLIANT! The soundtrack I have as well and each song, especially KISSING YOU & When dove fly (the wedding song) brings tear to my eye & goosebumps. It's a killer soundtrack with a killer movie. You don't get made like this anymore. I'm glad you reviewed this movie now....
Rapunzell 2009/05/27 3:45 PM
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Aaah, the gorgeous Leo and his Daines ... this is a CLASSIC! I am glad to say that I have a copy to pass on to my teenage daughter one day ... by that time Leo will be our generations Sean Connery! Excellent movie, great cinematography and EXCELLENT use of colours. This movie made Shakespeare 'pop' into life for young and old. No more boring High School English Literature references - just pure tradegy! My favourite scene must be the ball ... the colours, caracters and of course, the fishtank!
salvador limones 2009/06/05 1:56 AM
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Does anyone know where I can find this movie to see online?
leo fan 2009/06/15 3:56 PM
I was in std 8 when this movie came out. At that time we were doing the R & J setwork in English Class. Our teacher took us to see the movie on the big screen. Needless to say most of our class aced the English paper on that play. totally loved the movie!!!
Harryn Potter 2009/11/10 3:47 AM
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i like to dress up as harry potter
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