From the very moment we see Douglas Booth’s perfect square jaw and pouty lips, it’s clear what this new version of “Romeo and Juliet” has set out to do: this here exists solely to win over the new generation. It’s no accident that they cast “Gossip Girl’s” beloved Chuck Bass (Ed Westwick) here, either. And all that is fine -- if it were not for the simple fact that this generation deserves better than this safe, lukewarm adaptation.
Even so, director Carlo Carlei’s “Romeo and Juliet” is passable; it’s true to the text (albeit an abridged version), and is filled with some lovely flourishes. Much of the movie was shot in fair Verona, and the beautiful scenery gives the whole film a certain aura that makes it hard not to fall for. However, the lack of chemistry between the leads makes it a version that is unlikely to inspire real passion in its audience. "Romeo and Juliet" is a timeless story, so even a halfway competent version is stirring in the moment. But when dealing with a story that is this well known, it takes a little extra effort to force viewers to fully emotional invest themselves.
And it’s when the older, more seasoned actors are on screen that this version does just that. Damian Lewis and Paul Giamatti steal the movie as Lord Capulet and Friar Laurence, respectively. When either of them are on screen, it’s electric. When they speak, we hear Shakespeare’s prose the way it’s meant to be articulated; you feel the meaning behind their words, and you experience the depth of their characters. When they speak, it’s more than just the old words that we’ve come to know so well.
Unfortunately, I can’t quite say the same about Hailee Steinfeld’s Juliet or Booth’s Romeo.
Booth, though he has his moments, is slightly wooden in the role. He’s monotonic, devoid of the spirit that fuels his character’s every action. It also doesn't help that his pretty boy looks end up working more as a distraction than in his favor.
Steinfeld, who was 15 at the time of filming, fares better than her co-star. She thankfully looks the part of the young Juliet, and does a good job at conveying her sweet innocence and naivety. However, like Booth, she lacks a certain fire. She’s best known for her breakthrough performance in “True Grit,” which she earned an Academy Award nomination for. Here her performance isn’t as confident.
The biggest fault comes down to the misplaced chemistry between the two. No matter how passionately they may pull each other into an embrace, no matter how loud the dramatic music swells or how often the camera zooms in on them in a romantic frenzy, the heat just isn’t there. And it’s for that reason that the end doesn’t hit that vital emotional chord that defines “Romeo and Juliet.”
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