Popcorn Hour: Baz Luhrmann’s William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

Cover Photo:
William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet,
20th Century Fox.

Baz Luhrmann’s William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (1996) is one of the most intriguing films of the ‘90s. It blends Shakespeare’s classic prose with vibrant contemporary imagery. Leonardo Dicaprio and Claire Danes’s great performances as Romeo and Juliet ground the manic energy of the film. 

SPOILERS AHEAD

Baz Luhrmann goes all in with the film’s aesthetic, which has many highs and lows throughout the film. The scene that sticks out as wasted potential is the first kiss scene between Romeo and Juliet—this should be an iconic moment but the camera spins around the characters constantly at a dizzying pace.

Throughout the film, Baz Luhrmann toes the line between aesthetically pleasing and overwhelming. At some points, Luhrmann sees the line and steps right over it with scenes that are more likely to leave you with motion sickness rather than awe.

The first scene, which introduces the two feuding families, has some amazing shots but also has weird slapstick moments which kill the tension.

The styling of the Montagues and Capulets makes this film a time capsule of what was considered cool in the 1990s. The soundtrack is incredible, with appearances from Radiohead and The Cardigans.

The main culprit of bad comic relief throughout the film is Jamie Kennedy’s character Sampson, who just makes irritating noises throughout because he can’t pull off the Shakespearian prose. This stands out due to how good Dicaprio is in the film; while Dicaprio is doing an incredible Shakespearian performance, Kennedy seems like he would fit better in James Gunn’s Scooby-Doo: The Movie.

Romeo + Juliet has got some odd moments. Prior to the party at the Capulets mansion, Romeo takes a pill with a love heart on it—possibly the least subtle moment in a film I’ve ever seen. There is also a lot of slideshow-style moments. One that comes to mind is a slideshow of religious images with a choir singing ‘When Doves Cry’ by Prince. Yet another scene that loses steam is the fight between Tybalt and Mercutio where there are lots of long close-up shots using shaky cam which is really distracting.

WRITER’S FINAL WORDS

This film is more well-known than anything else I have covered in my reviews but it somehow never seems to be mentioned when people are talking about stylized films.

Romeo and Juliet has a truly iconic aesthetic and some incredible performances which should make it a contemporary classic. I believe it has been held back by some poor performances and strange choices that take the viewer out of the moment.


Jamie Kitcheman is a Leeds-based freelance journalist with a finger on the pulse of the current music scene and film.
Follow him on Twitter here and Instagram here.

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