William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet

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bigvalbowski's Avatar
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I'm a big Baz Luhrmann fan now. Moulin Rouge was so great, it made me seek out Strictly Ballroom, which is even more extraordinary. But my relationship with Baz started on a sour note with his version and definitely not Will Shakespeare's version of Romeo + Juliet.

Baz Luhrmann's Romeo and Juliet is brilliant and yet I don't care for it at all. It's filled with Luhrmann's extraordinary visuals, exciting editing and kick-ass soundtrack. However, it's William Shakespeare that he's adapting and the best thing about Shakespeare has always been the language. Shakespeare's plots weren't his strong suits, even some of his characterisations don't react well to scrutiny but I've never heard of a critic who was bold enough to challenge the Bard's classy wordplay. Luhrmann makes these words inaudible or his cast deliver them so badly (with the exception of Pete Postlethwaite), that all their beauty is lost. And without the words, Romeo+Juliet falls flat.

Let's return to the cast. DiCaprio comes across better than Danes who is a pet-hate of mine. I can't stand the actress and am glad to see that she has swiftly been removed from public attention. Her delivery of Shakespeare is more muddled than Leonardo who gives his performance at least a level of energy even if he too is lost by the dialogue. Leguiziamo is fun as Tybalt but Mercutio is far too camp. There are subtle elements to Mercutio's character in the play which suggest that he may be homosexual. But Baz was never one for subtlety and so dresses his Mercutio in drag and has him look on at Romeo with jealousy any time a girl approaches. Mercutio is a great character that's destroyed here. Postlethwaite is the shining light in the production. What a brilliant performer! He gives his Friar such nobility. And he's cool too. One heck of a priest!

It's a funny thing about Luhrmann. He is desperate to add an extra arc to his stories when they are unable to stretch that far. He is always looking for an extra tragic dimension. Romeo and Juliet isn't a tragedy in the traditional sense but anyone who knows anything knows it does not have a happy ending. Moulin Rouge was such a joyous few hours that one forgets that the director was trying to make a tragedy out of the whole event. Satine's death is overshadowed by the can-can dancing. We don't care that she died, just put on "Smells like Teen Spirit" again Baz. He doesn't misjudge often but he has a tendency for the melodramatic and that is the one spoiler of Moulin Rouge. And Romeo and Juliet is really a melodrama when one removes the dialogue - go seek out West Side Story's labourous songless sequences as further evidence - and Luhrmann can't handle it.

His best is Strictly Ballroom because it doesn't strain for tears. It only wants to entertain. Baz Luhrmann is one heck of an entertainer, whose striving to be something more. Stick to what your best at Baz and don't go near Shakespeare again.
I couldn't believe that she knew my name. Some of my best friends didn't know my name.

I liked your review of this film and find it to be pretty much on the money. I thought Claire Danes was terrible and John Leguizamo was fantastic. I love Harold Perrineau, but I don't blame him for what Mercutio becomes here, I blame Baz. I also really liked Diane Venora as Juliet's mother.