Movie Review: “Romeo & Juliet” needed a better Juliet. And Romeo, too.

ImageIt’s heartening to see how gorgeous the Italian cities of Verona and Mantua still are in the new “Romeo & Juliet,” so well-preserved that the Immortal Bard himself would recognize them — if he actually traveled through Europe.
Those stunning locations — Renaissance ballrooms and porticoes, squares, bridges, gardens and parlors —  almost make up for the rather disastrous casting at the heart of this production. How 17 year -ld Hailee Steinfeld managed to look younger and more romantically innocent than she did in “True Grit”, which filmed four years ago, is anybody’s guess.
Almost as big a mystery as to why they cast this overmatched actress as the teen who inspires this immortal line — “I never knew true beauty until this night.” Romeo (Douglas Booth) doesn’t get out much. Apparently.
The callow boy has tossed aside his infatuation for one forbidden girl from the Capulet clan for another, and as cruel as it is say so, Steinfeld doesn’t justify it. She rushes her lines, kisses like a rank amateur (which kind of fits, she’s supposed to be quite young) and tries not to shiver in all the unheated rooms where we see her breath as she wonders “Wherefore art thou, Romeo?”
Booth is the real beauty here, a model-pretty toy boy who doesn’t have a lot of camera charisma, either. The two of them make for a bland, lines-mumbling couple in an otherwise lovely and lively take on the classic play.
Paul Giamatti steals the picture as the helpful Friar Lawrence, trying not to stand in the way of love, aware of how funny he is when he tries to fight the hormones that draw the Montague boy to the Capulet girl.
“I pray you were not playing in Satan’s game,” he purrs. Not until they’re married, anyway.
Damien Lewis manages some fury and fun as Juliet’s father, and Natasha McElhone is his too-sexy wife, too understanding of Juliet’s reluctance to enter into an arranged marriage at such an early age.
Ed Westwick and Christian Cooke are matched hotheads Tybalt and Mercutio, practically foaming at the mouth to take the Capulet-Montague feud, the thing that keeps our young couple apart, to a new, bloodier level.
Julian Fellowes (“Downton Abbey”) did this adaptation, with Italian director Carlo Carlei, best known for the dead-guy-comes-back-as-a-dog dramedy “Fluke” ,utterly in over his head as director. It’s not that the movie isn’t great looking, with stunning sets, sword fights and a nice serving of horse play. But getting his baby-faced actors comfortable or compelling was beyond him.
So as much as every generation deserves it’s own “Romeo & Juliet,” this latest one does nothing to make anyone older than Hailee Steinfeld forget the heat of Baz Lurhmann’s far sexier, noisier and passionate modern dress version of 1996, where Claire Danes and Leo DiCaprio completely convinced us that they knew how to “play Satan’s game.” And how.


MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some violence and thematic elements
Cast: Hailee Steinfeld, Douglas Booth, Paul Giamatti, Damien Lewis, Stellan Skarsgard. 
Credits: Directed by Carlo Carlei, written by Julian Fellowes, based on the play by William Shakespeare. A Relativity release. 
Running time: 1:58

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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3 Responses to Movie Review: “Romeo & Juliet” needed a better Juliet. And Romeo, too.

  1. astriaicow says:

    Haven’t seen the film but completely disagree about Hailee Steinfield’s looks, I’ve always found her to be a gorgeous girl, my ex-boyfriend who saw the preview agrees. She also looks pretty Italian (contrary to the Romeo cast) which is a plus. Perhaps you should get out more ’cause look-wise, she’s the most perfect Juliet I’ve seen yet.

    • Trying to post under two different aliases? No no. And if you think she’s a great beauty, maybe you’re the one who needs to get out more. Young, yes. Cute. Callow. But a bad performance and she is no Shailene Woodley, in talent or hearts-aflutter looks.

  2. astriaicow says:

    I didn’t TRY to post under two aliases. I tried to post my post twice because I had to go through all these steps just to post something and then I didn’t know if it stuck. One name is my real name, the other one is my ScreenName for wordpress, which, for some reason, is what I had to go through to post anything on here. And please learn how to read. I SPECIFICALLY said: I didn’t see the movie, MEANING, I don’t know how she acted in there. Maybe she is horrible in that movie and a miscast for that reason. But she’s gorgeous. I’m an avid movie-goer so I know plenty of beauties and she’s definitely on top of my list. She’s beautiful because she has special features: the brow, the keen eyes, the refined chin. If you think she’s just “cute” then you just like too generic beauties. I think Shailene Woodley is pretty too, but Hailee Steinfield is more my taste. Again, many of my guy (and girl) friends agrees. It’s not my fault that you are not able to see beauty when it’s in front of you.

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