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movie review: romeo & juliet

how does the latest shakespeare adaptation stack up?

by: liza darwin

October 11 2013

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According to Wikipedia, there have been 41 (!!) different film adaptions of Romeo & Juliet since the first one premiered back in 1908. So whether or not you loved reading the play in English class, let's just say there's definitely enough options for anyone to have his or her own Shakespeare choose-your-own-adventure.

Yesterday we reminisced about Baz Luhrmann's 1996 version with Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio, and for good reason--it's awesome. Two teen stars, plus a hip-hop soundtrack, plus original Shakespearean dialogue adds up to a recipe for total '90s success. Then there's our other favorite, Franco Zeffirelli's 1968 version, which went in the complete opposite direction by taking the text literally. Needless to say, Hailee Steinfeld and Douglas Booth have a lot to live up to.

The duo star in director Carlo Carlei's classic adaptation of the Capulets versus Montagues tale, which is much more loyal to Zeffirelli than to Luhrmann. Meaning, there's no Garbage and Radiohead on the soundtrack (or sadly, Paul Rudd as Paris). Instead expect a traditional twist on the story, which hopefully by now requires no explanation.

As Juliet, Steinfeld is basically the epitome of innocence: wide-eyed, flushed cheeks, and radiating first-crush butterflies from the moment she meets Booth--who definitely isn't so bad-looking himself. As anyone who's seen the trailer can attest, this is a really, really ridiculously good looking movie. And that's not even touching upon the gorgeous cinematography (scenes were actually shot in Verona) or the extremely elaborate costumes. 

But the pretty exterior doesn't mean anything if the chemistry between the two stars isn't there--this is the most important love story of all time! Whereas many of the other versions might play up the twosome's sexual tension in a huge way, like DiCaprio and Danes's unforgettable pool scene, Steinfeld and Booth are subtle. Think more hand-holding and less making out. It's not necessarily good or bad. It's just different, and it takes a while to get used to. Something that doesn't, however, is the supporting cast. From Paul Giamatti's hilarious but decidedly non-corny take on the Friar to Damien Lewis as Juliet's scary overprotective dad, these all-star actors make it tough to choose a favorite character. 

Our suggestion? Grab your friends, go see the movie with an open mind, and get ready to talk about the pros and cons long after it's over. Every generation has their own version of Romeo & Juliet to watch a billion times over, and this one might be yours. Watch the trailer below!

Romeo and Juliet opens in theaters everywhere today. 


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