Rosaline does not capture the spirit of Shakespeare | 25YL

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Hollywood has a long history of adapting plays by William Shakespeare to fit the teen comedy genre. 10 things i hate about you borrows its plot from The Taming of the Shrew, She is the man is a fantastic adaptation of twelfth nightand Warm bodies, valley girland now Rosaline tackle Shakespeare’s most famous work, Romeo and Juliet.

Rosaline is the story of Romeo and Juliet, but centers its narrative on Romeo’s (Kyle Allen) oft-forgotten ex, Rosaline (Kaitlyn Dever). The two had been in a similar whirlwind romance days before his infamous encounter with Rosaline’s cousin, Juliette (Isabela Merced). Angered by how quickly Romeo abandoned her for the younger, prettier Juliet, Rosaline hatches a plan to win her ex back.

(Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2022 20th Century Studios. All rights reserved.)

The movie’s trailer reveals its best jokes, and what’s left is a series of forced comedic moments. Rosaline and a potential suitor, Dario (Sean Teale), have a date set by her father. They are on a small boat on a lake and Rosaline has to meet Romeo at the masquerade ball, so she’s impatient. When Rosaline admits to Dario that she has a boyfriend, he says his dad never mentioned it and begins to back down. Suddenly, the bright sky darkens and it begins to rain on both of them. Nothing about the scene feels natural – from the performances to the events to the delivery of the dialogue.

That’s not to say Dever is the wrong choice to direct a comedy movie. Her timing is impeccable, but the lines she delivers leave a lot to be desired. His performance in Library proves how thrilling she can be when the script matches her comedy style, but Rosaline seems like it was written to find the path of least resistance in terms of jokes. None of the comedic moments feel intrinsically tied to the story itself, but they’re simply circumstances that might be funny in another time, place, or movie.

Rosaline and Juliette enter a bar
(Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2022 20th Century Studios. All rights reserved.)

In many ways, Rosaline is the oldest story in the books. Not because of the film’s source material, but in its lack of imagination. How many times will the writers return to the already dry well of having Rosaline’s hair caught in Juliet’s earring? The jokes about how little agency women had in those days fade pretty quickly, and it’s not something audiences haven’t heard before. It’s as if the jokes were borrowed from another teen movie and only slightly tweaked to fit the world of Rosaline.

The rhythm and editing of Rosaline never feels fluid. The film will move from a sweet moment playing croquet to Juliette and Rosaline at a rowdy dive bar. A cut like this works in movies with this style of editing, but with Rosaline, there is no consistent structure for audiences to follow in terms of film style. It’s one thing for a period film to feel ultra-modernized and to use contemporary music and filmmaking techniques, but those aspects also need to match the tone of the film itself.

Rosaline tries to throw Juliet off the balcony
(Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2022 20th Century Studios. All rights reserved.)

Persuasion (2022) comes to mind when thinking about the missed potential of Rosaline. Whereas Persuasion (2022) is not an adaptation of a Shakespearian work, the film has its roots in the works of another author with a good share of adaptations for teenagers: Jane Austen. Austen and Shakespeare spanned the centuries because of their acerbic criticism of the current society in which they wrote. As much as we’d like to believe that humanity has grown in the years since, there’s been a universal turn out to the very end. When contemporary adaptations lean into the timelessness of these works, they are able to create something that feels fresh, but actually relates to a distant time.

As much as Rosaline wants to be about the forgotten ex from the story of the most famous star-crossed lovers, the film does very little to differentiate itself from Shakespearean teen adaptations of years past. It follows the familiar beats of teen comedies where hijinks give way to character development and Rosalines’ own love story, but it’s not enough to stand on its own. Considering how comically strong Dever was in Libraryhis return to the comedy genre after a string of dramatic roles is disappointing, but not for lack of potential.

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