I think every generation deserves their own version of Romeo & Juliet, and this film is definitely targeted at today’s kids, while maintaining the soul of Shakespeare. Told exclusively through online content like Instagram posts and stories and lives, and through text messages written entirely in 2021’s unique gif-heavy jargon, R#J is set in modern day but is still identifiably Shakespeare’s most infamous romantic tragedy, told in his unforgettable language.
The beef between the Montagues and the Capulets has bathed the streets of Verona in blood from both sides. Romeo (Camaron Engels) knows better than to attend a party at the house of Capulet, but Benvolio and Merc entice him out, where he instantly starts crushing on a new girl with an arty IG account. After lots of back and forth flirting, Romeo and Juliet (Francesca Noel) find out they are mortal enemies, and it’s crushing. But they’re determined to lead with love, hoping their relationship will blaze a new path toward forgiveness. Of course, we all know how it goes; their families aren’t ready yet to let bygones be bygones.
Adding this new filter of social media lets us explore this age-old saga in new light. Online bullying, the viral destruction of someone’s reputation, the loss of control of one’s story; director Carey Williams has the privilege of a bold and savvy script, and together they manage to make these new aspects seem like they’ve always been part of Shakespeare’s intention. I don’t think classics are necessarily untouchable, but this is Shakespeare, so if you’re going to be ballsy enough to to make changes, the changes had better justify themselves unequivocally. I am astonished that after centuries of retellings, Williams still finds new ground here, fertile ground, new facets of the story worth expressing. He gathers an ensemble of young actors as talented as they are beautiful, including Maria Gabriela de Faria, Siddiq Saunderson, and Diego Tinoco, most of them born after Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet was released, who help reinvigorate a play they probably studied four days ago in high school.
I know the mobile media aspect has been done to death, but so has Shakespeare, but we always make time for the stories that move us. I’m excited that a new generation will discover Romeo and Juliet with this smart and sexy film, and I’m pleased that even an old biddy like me can still find value in a story about impetuous teenage lust.