Making the Grades
With its incredible teen appeal, I can see this version of Shakespeare's Romeo And Juliet playing in every high school English classroom from Maine to British Columbia. But like candied poison, this Romeo is coated in things teens may love, while parents are left defenseless against the argument of, "But mom, this is Shakespeare!"
Parents, your teens are not in for a Shakespearean feast when they sit down to watch this movie. Modernized almost past recognition, Director Baz Luhrmann's production is hardly a substitute for the real thing. The setting, the fictitious Verona Beach, is an urban community that looks more like a reclaimed landfill. Boiled down to Mafia-like street gangs, members of the Montague and Capulet families roam the sands, sporting a punk/grunge look. Under the trendy clothing, everyone has a designer handgun, as the mighty pistol has replaced the swords and daggers of Shakespeare's day.
This is a mayhem of violence and sex that comes just shy of an R-rating. A constant blur of MTV moves with quick cuts, tight close-ups, shaking first-person filming techniques and a blistering rock score may have you searching for anti-motion-sickness medication if you are viewing it on a large screen. Sexual innuendo is often included, and the big love scene is a masterpiece of maneuvering so as to not have a glimpse of anything forbidden in the realm of PG-13.
But the greatest concern may be the way teen suicide is portrayed. As the two star-crossed lovers meet their end in a glamorous church surrounded by hundreds of candles, I can't help but think that some may consider this as a fitting end for their own troubles.
Even if you recognize some of the original prose, they are poorly presented, especially by younger cast members who seem to be reciting them a line at a time. By far, the best way to enjoy this work is from the pages of the Bard's script. This Romeo And Juliet has far too much poison and too little to love.