Sunday, 6 June 2010

You Kiss By The Book.

Oh, what can I say about Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet? I first saw it many moons ago, back in, what, late 1996 or early 1997 when it was in cinemas in Australia. I must have been twelve at the time, almost thirteen. To me, then, Shakespeare was a name I knew, someone we had to study in English class at school. Strictly Ballroom was somewhere on my radar. Titanic was still a year away, but we all knew Leonardo DiCaprio as hot, though no one really knew who Claire Danes was except that she had done that angst-ridden TV show a year or two back. And then, suddenly, Shakespeare for the MTV generation. Sharp, tense, violent, bloody, young, glossy, pretty. It wasn't Shakespeare as we had envisaged, as we had seen in telemovies or on stage. This was Shakespeare for us, and my, it was glorious.

This film is still my favourite Shakespeare adaptation. I think you would struggle to find many people between the ages of, say, 20 and 35 who would disagree. Especially when it comes to a faithful(ish) adaptation, one using the Bard's original words, phrasings, dialogue. Luhrmann, with co-writer Craig Pearce (who also pitched in on Strictly Ballroom and Moulin Rouge!) dissected and reworked this most classic of love stories into a modern setting without losing the meaning, the love story, and so many of the classic elements. The billboards in the background speak Shakespearean, the guns are inscribed with the names of swords. The wealth is opulent, over-the-top, outrageous. The parties are debauched, the clothing glamourous, the feuds brutal and long-running.

And the performances match. They have just the right level of camp melodrama to play into the anti-modern words and the far-fetched setting, without ever taking them too far. DiCaprio and Danes are in love, John Leguizamo as Tybalt is menacing and angry, Harold Perrineau is tragic as Mercutio, Pete Postlethwaite is concerned but conspiratorial as Father Lawrence, Paul Sorvino and Brian Dennehy are impotent as the Capulet and Montague heads respectively, even Paul Rudd is pathetically naive as Paris. Everyone pitches in to lend a hand in the stunning spaces created by Catherine Martin and her crew. And of course, the inimitable Jill Bilcock pieces it all back together seamlessly, beautifully, strikingly.

If you don't know the story, sort your life out. If you haven't seen it, sort your life out. Maybe my opinion is somewhat skewed by the time in my life in which I saw it and the memories associated with it, but for me it is, and always will be, 5 stars.

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