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Romeo + Juliet (1996)

by on 2013/02/24

Romeo_+_Juliet_1996“If love be rough with you, be rough with love. Prick love for pricking and you beat love down.”

* * *

Ah, teenagers. They are so delightfully overwrought at times.

When I produced this film from my stack of candidates for this month’s celebration of music and musical movies, my favourite teenager Miss_Tree huffed, “Did you know that Juliet was only 13?” Miss_Tree had read Romeo and Juliet at an impressionable age and was horrified to learn from the verse that the star-crossed lover was not yet 14.

A 13 year-old involved in a controversial and whirlwind courtship, and then overnight marriage. “That’s crazy. That’s wrong,” said Miss_Tree.

She is right. That completely unhinged quality of the story is jack hammered home in this 1996 Baz Luhrmann-directed adaptation. Hand guns, Hawaiian shirts, greased forelocks, beach culture a la Jersey Shore, this is a none-more-90s take on Shakespeare’s love story.

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio (Inception) and Claire Danes (Stardust), this film is a fully realized universe comprised almost entirely of rage, gasping desperation, drugs, alcohol and waving guns around.

Music plays a pivotal role in this movie, with songs from 90s staples Garbage, Everclear, Butthole Surfers and The Cardigans. Like a music video with an incredible script, the action rips by at a visually frenetic, break-neck speed – sort of like crashing a costume party on acid. Which, I should note, this Romeo totally did.

It wasn’t my finest moment of film criticism when I blurted out, “What incredible spazzes.” Yet, alas, spazzes they were. Danes as Juliet and DiCaprio as Romeo do fine work here capturing the crazed intensity of frenzied teens in love. Backed up by John Leguizamo (Assault on Precinct 13) as Tybalt and Harold Perrineau (The Matrix Reloaded) as Mercutio, the cast brings a wild-eyed intensity to the feud between the Capulets and Montagues.

Both mommy and daddy Montague and Capulet seemed alternately drunk or pilled up, narcissistic and self-absorbed, decadent and dysfunctional, leaving little wonder why their kids are so drawn to destruction like moths to killing flame. Paul Sorvino (Goodfellas) and Brian Dennehy (First Blood) play the monolithic patriarchs. Paul Rudd (I Love You Man) gets to play a douche of a Paris, rival to the fair Grade 8’s hand.

“Perhaps death is all they really want,” I observed. Miss_Tree and I had discussed this idea before when discussing the Romeo and Juliet play. Were they really in love with each other or were they in love with self-destruction?

I give this movie one less star than my star-crossed co-reviewer who gave it four because perhaps I’m aging and find frenzied teens grating.

“Hey, you two kids on that balcony over there, keep it down or I’ll call the cops.”

Mostly, I’m glad Miss_Tree’s into poetry.

* * *

120 minutes

Rated PG-13 for scenes of gun violence, shirtlessness and underage romance

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