Volume 2, Number 1 -- January, 1997
by Tony Han
In recent news, American's were surprised (or exonerated) when it was discovered that Disney's Hunchback of Notre Dame was selling exceptionally well in France. Triumphantly, we the People snubbed our noses at the greatest of nose-snubbers with our battle cry: Like, lighten up, man! Everything is grist for the mill! And I speak of this event neither to support nor slander our ability to warp our great works; I point this out merely as a reminder that we, as a culture, are most triumphant at taking an older, classical piece of literature and re-writing it for our own purposes. Yes, we recycle everything.
The state you should be in to see this film: Drunk and on something, unless you have a pretty date. The most common remark that I've heard concerning this film is that the first ten minutes don't really match the rest of the film. The pacing and style is actually noticeably different. To be fair on the outset, Luhrmann newest interpretation (this word used loosely) of Romeo and Juliet actually accomplishes what I hope it was attempting to do: Entertain. Yes, I enjoyed the soundtrack, the gun play, the MTV feel, the fact that Romeo got laid (which I don't think I ever read in the original play), and all the other modern nuances. With this version, I can say, "Tybalt deserved getting capped."
Now, I will admit that I grew up in an age and area when one of the first versions of Romeo and Juliet that I saw was West Side Story. I was brought up in these days when Quentin Tarintino has taken the reins as the hippest of current directors and Hong Kong gun-slinging films are giving American viewers such a rush. You can count the number of current movies that do NOT have a gun in it on one hand. Yet, I must say, I never thought I would see the day when I would see surfers in the background of any of Shakespeare's plays. Or hearing 'cousin' replaced with 'cuz'. Or watching actors enter the stage in Lo Riders. Or the Friar with a tattoo of the Cross on his back. Or Mercutio playing a drag queen. I'm sure it's somewhat...comforting to see that Shakespeare's plays are timeless (actually, which we knew already), but also somewhat disturbing.
Leonard DiCaprio also fits the role -- oddly enough. He seemed so at home playing this type of character. Basically, his character in this movie was nothing more than the synthesis of all of his previous roles (Jim Carroll, Arthur Rimbaud, the kid in The Quick and the Dead, young Tobias Wolff) EXCEPT the role that got him the Academy Award nomination. He broods well. He looks unstable and pissed well. And, he's quite the impetuous type. Claire Danes? Well, she's just so damn cute. That's all I've got to say.
I get the feeling Luhrmann decided to make this movie the way he did to flagrantly thumb his nose at the Traditionalists. And if he did have such an agenda, it does him much dis-credit. This movie might have been better received and better enjoyed if he merely left the stuffy, tights-wearing Shakespeare fanatics alone and just did his thing. Disney made no pretense that they were even attempting to re-tell the tale truthfully (they'd be stupid to try with hopes the parent's will take the kids). Luhrmann just should have named the movie something else and kept everything else intact. I will credit the director for not changing the major events of the original to give it a happy ending, but this movie will only be remembered (if that) for its modern adaptation, not for any new insights or interpretations... Well, except for the fact that Romeo was high on something before he met Juliet; I found that somewhat humorous.
If you go into this film with an expectation of seeing a thoughtful interpretation of the play, you'll find yourself siding with the old-school drama critics. The movie should be approached as it is: A modern movie that USES the Romeo and Juliet plot. That's all. Everything else that Luhrmann does is gimmick, including using Elizabethanese. It was a gimmick from the start. Go into this movie with the same or slightly higher expectations that you would have going into the Beavis and Butthead movie. And, like any good modern piece of entertainment (from music to film to art), [director] will end up being 'a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.' Dude.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: If you need me to tell you what the story's about, you have to leave your cave more often.