Romeo and Juliet

I really thought that I would hate this movie - not only did it sound meh, I was sick of movies and writing from too much posting today. When I was done running errands, I sat down to watched Romeo and Juliet, directed by Franco Zeffirelli in 1968. I was rolling my eyes about five minutes in and complaining that I didn't need to watch a movie that just word for word, read out of the play I had read 5303093 times as an English major. I really do feel burned out on this story. It was a few years ago, but it feels like only months ago, since I wrote a really long essay on how, structurally speaking, Romeo and Juliet is not a traditional tragedy and actually resembles Shakespeare's comedies. Snore.

Since I haven't said I hated the movie yet, I'm sure you've already guess that magically, the movie was great and I was proven to be wrong - it was actually awesome, and I really enjoyed watching it. It was very well cast and well directed, and even though I felt so sick of the play, I found this movie version to be really interesting and an engaging watch.

Do I need to summarize the plot? Romeo and Juliet are teenagers from feuding families. The new generations seem to just learn the hatred from the older ones, and arbitrarily fight and argue. Romeo sneaks into a feast where he meets Juliet, and instantly they are in love (as all teenagers are). Juliet is supposed to be married to some old boring guy, but soon she is secretly married to Romeo, at the hands of his close friend, Friar Laurence. Romeo ends up being banished for killing the man who killed his friend, and Juliet is distraught. The Friar gives her a potion to make her appear dead for 42 hours, so that she will be able to escape with Romeo. He sends word to Romeo, but Romeo hears about Juliet's 'death' and misses the messenger. When he arrives, he finds her still asleep and drinks poison, killing himself. Juliet wakes up moments later to find Romeo dead, and finding no poison for herself, she stabs herself with dagger.

I feel like my hands want to write about how this is not a "tragedy" in the sense of what an actual tragic play is, but I need to remember that I'm writing about the movie, here! I thought this was pretty much the best adaptation of the play that could have been made. I loved that they didn't try to "modernize" the dialogue or something awful like that. It's already pretty easy to read, but it's so easy to understand when you can listen to it, and see the emotions and reactions of others as the lines are delivered.  It's so nice to hear Shakespeare read, I think. He wrote his plays to be read, and they just pan out so much better when you can actually hear them instead of just stare at them on a page. I like to think that even if you hate Shakespeare, you can't deny that it's beautiful sounding, but I'm sure people do.

Aside from the faithful dialogue, the casting in this movie was...amazing. Juliet is 14 in the play - why do we never see her cast as an actual 14 year old? It was really refreshing to finally see a version of Romeo and Juliet where they actually look like teenagers. I'm so used to Juliet being an adult woman, and her sonnets being read so dry and seriously. I was a bit on the fence about this movie until I saw the famous balcony scene. She gave the speech with such lightness and laughter, and yunno, sounded like how 14-year-old girls sound when they talk about guys they have a crush on. It was so much more poignant and realistic, and such a far cry from every other time I've heard that speech that I immediately fell in love with the film.

In his essay, Ebert wonders if modern audiences could like this movie - noting that more recent remakes focus on the violence, not romance. I wish I had the answer to this question, as a "modern viewer", but I don't. I like Shakespeare - I'm pretty much at home in his plays, used to over-thinking them and bickering about them in classrooms. I'm ok with the movie not having much action, or anything like that. I really loved it, but I don't know what that really means. I like the play, I liked writing about the play, and I was really happy to see a film version that made a lot of sense and was faithful to the play. I have no idea if any of this would work for anyone else, though. I would like to imagine that everyone would like this movie - or that it would help them enjoy the play on a new level, but I know that is probably not the case.

I feel like I don't have too much to say about this film, but I still really enjoyed it. Probably I've been so over-saturated with the play for so long that I've run out of words. I was more interested in watching this than I was a few of the previous days movies - I liked this adaptation so much that it just held my attention really well. It was weird when I first started watching it, but after ten minutes, the costumes were less goofy and the dialogue felt normal, and I was just lost in the plot. I think this movie is really worth checking out if you haven't seen it. I would never have given this film a chance if it wasn't on my list, but I'm really glad that I did. Let me know if you check it out!

Have any thoughts on Romeo and Juliet? Share them in the comments!

Ebert's Great Movie Essay on Romeo and Juliet
Buy or rent it on Amazon
The Balcony Scene, with inexplicable Russian subtitles

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