Friday, August 10, 2012


Luhrmann, Baz. Romeo + Juliet (DVD -- feature film). 20th Century Fox, 2003. $14.98, ASIN: B00008G7UJ

Plot: In this classic tale based on the Shakespeare play, two families, the Montagues and the Capulets, are in the middle of a vicious, bloody feud. Romeo Montague is pining away for an unrequited love and Juliet is trying to keep her parents from forcing her to marry Paris. Romeo's rambunctious friend Mercutio compels Romeo to join him at the Capulets party, where they will wear disguises so that no one will discover that there are Montagues in the room. When Romeo meets Juliet, they fall instantly in love, which is sealed after the party as Romeo goes to her window at night and Juliet appears, resulting in the famous balcony scene.

With the help of Juliet's nurse and Friar Laurence, the two secretly marry. When Mercutio is killed by Tybalt in a bloody fight and Romeo kills Tybalt in revenge, any hope of exposing the marriage to their parents is destroyed. Romeo is banished from the city, Juliet takes a sleeping potion to fake her death, and Romeo runs to her, not knowing that she has taken a potion, not poison. A famous scene in the Capulet crypt ends the story.

Critical Evaluation: This is a visceral, exciting version of the play, and Luhrmann takes a lot of liberties in costuming, setting, and set design. The most notable aspects of the film is the quick editing, which makes the film feel jumpy and kinetic, and the splashes of Latino iconography. Set in Florida, the film references gang battles and uses musical soundscapes to strong effect. The acting is good, if not perfect, but the the actor Harold Perrinault plays Mercutio with a thrilling audacity; he just takes over the film. (Luhrmann takes huge risks in his characterization of Mercutio, but the result is brilliant.) Also, the pairing of Claire Danes as Juliet and Leonardo DiCaprio as Romeo is exciting -- two of the best teen actors and a lot of great chemistry, plus a strong, sensual touch, make the scenes between the two hypnotic, as they should be. This is not the only film version of the play, but the diverse ethnic make-up of the characters, the pop music touches, and the fast pace of the film will open up Shakespeare's power to a younger generation.

Reader’s Annotation: Caught in a bloody gang feud, two star-crossed lovers find love and tragedy.

Director bio: Baz Luhrmann (whose birth name is Mark Anthony Luhrmann) grew up in the Australian countryside, where his father owned a farm, a gas station, and a movie theater, which is where he was first entranced by visual storytelling. His parents were ballroom dancers and dancing has been central to his movies, especially the films in his "Red Curtain Trilogy": Strictly Ballroom, Romeo + Juliet, and Moulin Rouge.
            He made the most expensive commercial ever, filming Nicole Kidman for Chanel No 5 perfume, which put her in the Guiness Records book for being the highest paid actress in any single commercial. Luhrmann is known for his fast pacing and for using bright colors. He tends to popularize traditionally highbrow fare, noting that Shakespeare was speaking to all levels of society.

Genre: Fiction.

Curriculum Ties: English.

Reading Level/Interest Age: 13+

Challenge Issues: The film has violence and it is very sensual, but I don't think it would get many challenges. Make sure that the film reviews are on hand, keep the collection policy in handout form. 

Why Included: It is a visceral take on Shakespeare that is used in English classes to help kids understand the play.

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