The story of Romeo and Juliet has been told and retold, adapted, modernized, reversed, gender-bent, Gnomified, and otherwise produced ad nauseam for over four centuries with varying degrees of quality, originality, and artistic value. Now along comes Rosaline, a new take on the story that not only introduces new characters but also subverts expectations regarding the tale we thought we knew. The film is fun and funny, with the right amount of camp to poke fun at the logical fallacies of the source material without dragging the original with tired criticisms.
Rosaline (Kaitlyn Dever) is Juliet’s (Isabela Merced) cousin and first love-interest of Romeo (Kyle Allen). When an arranged date with Dario (Sean Teale) prevents Rosaline from meeting Romeo at a ball, he meets her cousin and is immediately smitten. What follows is a series of misadventures as Rosaline tries to reclaim her former lover’s heart that ultimately sets in motion a well-known turn of events. When Rosaline realizes the consequences of her actions, she must race to make things right before it’s too late.
Directed by Karen Maine (Yes, God, Yes), the film breezes along with even pacing through 15th-century Verona. Written by duo Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber (The Spectacular Now, (500) Days of Summer), the screenplay is full of wit and charm. Rather than face the tonal dichotomy of olde English in a more modern story, Shakespearian dialogue is sprinkled in because, hey, Romeo is a poet. But the strength of the story is in the character of Rosaline. Equal parts angsty teen that recall many early 2000s rom-coms and patriarchal challenger, Rosaline is funny, strong-willed, and fully developed. The film’s music is a wonderful blend of modern hits and period instrumentals.
The cast shines, fully embracing the stereotypes of their famous characters and bringing something new forward to make them memorable. Dever and Merced are best when sharing the screen as equally strong-willed cousins. Allen portrays Romeo as a dopey romantic that somehow comes across as sleazy. Teale’s Dario, the other original character featured here, is suave and the outsider who puts the story into perspective. Supporting cast members Bradley Whitford, Minnie Driver, Spencer Stevenson, and Christopher McDonald eat up the scenes they are a part of, clearly enjoying the costumes and story.
Though not action-filled, the film does stumble in the few instances of fight choreography that are sprinkled throughout. Dario, said to be a soldier returned from the war, exhibits little competency when engaged in swashbuckling bravado, but fortunately, such scenes are short and not wholly distracting. These edits mean that the deaths of Tybalt and Mercutio happen off-screen and are treated with very little care, almost as though the writers couldn’t figure a way to have the deaths mesh with the light-hearted humor of the film. However, maintaining the deaths while not giving them more than a cursory glance is more jarring than if they had simply been omitted.
Ultimately, Rosaline breathes new life into the story of Romeo and Juliet while standing apart as something unique and different. It is a fun, light-hearted romp through a familiar story that criticizes but does mock. The cast is fully engaged in the story being told and brings heart and humor to the writing of Neustadter and Weber. Director Maine keeps things moving briskly and only stumbles slightly in the tonal shifts of the obligatory character deaths. Overall, the end product is an enjoyable and entertaining film that has the potential to stand out in a sea of otherwise forgettable retellings of a classic story.