Monday, August 18, 2008

The Greatest Loudest Love Story Ever Told

Um...well, that sure was different.

After revealing my Shakespeare prejudice and proclaiming my love for Zeffirelli's 1968 version of Romeo and Juliet a couple of weeks ago, I was instructed in the comments to check out Luhrmann's 1996 version before making a definitive decision. I just watched it tonight and I must say that I'm still backing the Zeffirelli version whole-heartedly. Don't get me wrong, Luhrmann's vision and execution is impeccable and that opening scene-- a nearly post-apocalyptic version of a violence-torn city due to a grand feud between two wealthy families-- sucks you in so fast you almost have no idea what hits you.

My biggest problem was that everything in William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet was so fucking loud. I could kinda deal with the loud sound effects because, in context, they made sense with Luhrmann's vision. But when all of the actors are just shouting their lines so much that you can hardly make sense of what they are saying, it begins to become sort of a problem. And let me just add something about the acting: I never thought I'd say this but sometimes Shakespeare should be left to the theatre experts. John Leguizamo had the potential to be great, but he spoke every damn line through a clenched jaw that I suppose was trying to show how badass he was but instead made it impossible to understand the words coming out of his mouth. Of the star crossed lovers, DiCaprio was better, but not by a wide margin. He was at least trying to get into the character and make the material seem fresh. Danes, on the other hand, played Juliet like just another random lovestruck teenager in some 90's teen romance instead of a first-class auteur's modern vision of one of the most recognizable love stories of all time.

This brings me to another point. Watching this in 2008, as a child of the late 90's/early 2000's, the film already feels slightly dated. From the cheesy clothes and haircuts (which are very much of their time), to the romance (it didn't feel tragic enough to the point where they'd do anything for each other and I didn't feel any connection between DiCaprio and Dances and sort of wished they had cast someone like Kate Winslet to completely ignite the screen with chemistry) and the general debauchery and antics of all of the supporting cast which felt like it should belong in some fucked up hybrid of She's All That and Boyz 'N the Hood, everything felt completely 90's and almost kitschy. It will be interesting to see how this film fairs in 20 years: will people still love it or will it be a relic?

I know this may sound like I hated this film, but, truly, I thought it was a very jarring and provoking experience (in a good way). It was exactly what I needed to see that not all Shakespeare adaptations need to be excessively theatrical and can be used to express an unique point of view. I sincerely think that this film needs to be shown as part of Shakespeare units in high schools to prove that his works are still relevant 400 years later. Well, look at that...maybe Luhrmann's converted me after all. B


par3182 said...

i'm with you on this one - i remember stumbling from the theatre, feeling battered from the ridiculously loud soundtrack and the rapid editing

it hurt my brain so much that's about all i remember (except i have a vague feeling harold perrineau was the best thing in it)

Slayton said...

I haven't seen this film, but I own the soundtrack and it is G-R-E-A-T. I don't think you'll find another compilation where "Young Hearts Run Free" sits alongside Garbage, Radiohead and Stina Nordenstam.

J.D. said...

Well, yay?

I LOVED THE LOUDNESS! And the datedness was attractive to me, weirdly, and I usually hate over-saturation of '90s culture.

The bookends of the TV news chick might be my favorite part of the whole movie (along with the cinematography). It solidified every thought I had of Luhrmann's directorial ability that Moulin Rouge! gave me.