Synopsis – A comedic retelling of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” told from the point of view of Romeo’s jilted ex, Rosaline, the woman Romeo first claims to love before he falls for Juliet.
My Take – As far as Shakespearean adaptions go, the iconic tale of the star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet surely takes the cake for being retold the greatest number of times.
However, what makes this directorial from Karen Maine (Yes God Yes) immediately stand out is that it told from the perspective of Romeo’s ex-girlfriend, Rosaline, whom he totally forgets about when Juliet enters the picture. Resulting in a goofy rom-com retelling of the well-known story, that is both fun and charming, but most importantly, not afraid to call out its star-crossed lovers for being a tad melodramatic.
Based on Rebecca Serle’s 2013 YA novel, When You Were Mine, the film eschews the original language for a more modern vernacular, while still keeping the period setting. It’s a bit silly, a bit camp, and mostly predictable, yet the excellent acting and the creative storyline keep you thoroughly engaged.
Yes, purists of Shakespeare will absolutely hate this modern take on his most well-known play, and it hardly invents the wheel when it comes to Shakespeare adaptations, but one can’t deny the film’s enjoyable snarky humor and the refreshing showcase of Kaitlyn Dever’s talents.
The story follows Rosaline (Kaitlyn Dever), a modern woman from the house of Capulet, living in a time where women are still bartered and traded in marriage. Leaving her father (Bradley Whitford) constantly worried about her ambitions and her growing age. But what he does not know is that Rosaline is in love with Romeo (Kyle Allen) of the rival Montague house, and is planning to run off with him and live in the mountains.
However, all her plans go caput when she ends up missing the infamous ball thanks to her father’s latest attempt to set her up with her latest suitor, Dario (Sean Teale), where Romeo ended up meeting her younger cousin, Juliet (Isabela Merced), and the two immediately fell in love. Determined to get her himbo of a boyfriend back, and set Juliet straight, Rosaline sets off a plan, that also makes her question what she really wants from the future.
Sure, we didn’t need another take on Romeo and Juliet, but director Karen Maine and writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H Weber (500 Days of Summer, The Spectacular Now and The Fault in Our Stars), understand what makes a good adaptation: a sense of humor at least on par with if not exceeding the original, lighthearted lines with serious delivery, and crackling romantic chemistry. Instead of going the usually favored dark and gritty route, the film is instead quite upbeat tangled within aplomb and well-worn rom-com conventions.
Yes, your mileage may vary about whether you think Rosaline is doing any of this because she actually wants Romeo back for his own sake or if she’s just jealous of Juliet, who is, in so many ways, the kind of dutiful young woman and model daughter she’s been told all her life she’s supposed to be.
But one can’t deny how the film has a ton of fun incorporating various famous moments and images from Shakespeare’s play into the larger story, like the balcony scene, which in this version is simply a retread of a night Romeo spent feeding almost the same lines to Rosaline, Romeo’s public murder of Tybalt and Juliet’s decision to fake her own death are just a few sly nods to the literature fans in the audience.
Sure, that’s not to say that the film is perfect. For example, the Montagues’ and Capulets’ central feud is poorly sketched in the film itself, which hinders the story it’s trying to tell, Rosaline’s relationship with Dario relies more on well-tread romantic tropes than any substantial onscreen developments, and characters like Rosaline’s nurse (Minnie Driver) and requisite gay best friend Paris (Spencer Stevenson) are underserved despite their actors’ committed performances. Yet, the film undeniably has what so many love stories past and present lack: a hearty, swift dose of fun.
Performance wise, Kaitlyn Dever is endlessly watchable as the spunky titular character, once again proving herself as one of our most exciting young actresses. She’s charming, with wonderful comedic timing, and her chemistry with every supporting cast member feels natural and authentic.
Kyle Allen and Isabela Merced make for a fun version of the famous star-crossed lovers. While Sean Teale, Bradley Whitford, Christopher McDonald and Minnie Driver shine in supporting roles. On the whole, ‘Rosaline’ is a fun, light-hearted retelling of a story that has already been extensively retold.
Directed – Karen Maine
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 90 minutes