I’m pretty sure the dumbest way to die is killing yourself upon discovering that faking your own death has tricked your forbidden lover into his or her own suicide. The second might be to get gutted in one of the jumbled, perfunctory sword fights that clang up the streets of Verona in this rat-a-tat Romeo and Juliet, in which the be-gowned and be-tighted players, all costumed the colors of potpourri, speak dumbed-down Bardisms like “Spit it out!”, “Have you all gone mad?”, and Juliet’s opposite-of-immortal “I would exchange my bones for all your news,” loosely and hammily adapted from Shakespeare’s “I would thou hadst my bones, and I thy news.” Better still is one of the final lines delivered by the supremely game Paul Giamatti, playing that idiot friar who thinks hatching a fake suicide plot is just the thing to help out the kids. Juliet lies in her tomb in fake death, and the friar learns that the exiled Romeo has returned to Verona in a state of great despondence, believing Juliet dead. The friar gives us an oh, shit! look and asks, the way Bob Hope might, “Did he not receive my letter?” How did screenwriter/adapter Julian Fellowes resist giving him a ruh-roh? All this is spoken on a set that looks less like Renaissance Italy than the backrooms of the Las Vegas Venetian. The leads—Douglas Booth and Hailee Steinfeld—kiss, cry, and die prettily enough. It’s all rote, dashed through, and somewhat detestable—why not encourage the tween audience to rise to the language? The movie is to the play what a coloring book is to a museum.
Carlo CarleiPaul Giamatti, Stellan Skarsgård, Hailee Steinfeld, Damian Lewis, Douglas Booth, Ed Westwick, Natascha McElhone, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Tom Wisdom, Christian Cooke, Stellan SkarsgårdJulian Fellowes, William ShakespeareSimon Bosanquet, Lawrence Elman, Julian Fellowes, Alexander Koll, Ileen MaiselRelativity Media