No one watches a new version of an old story just to find out what happens. And when the story in question is one of Shakespeare's most well-known tragedies, it has to be a little punchy to distinguish itself from the dozen or so renditions that have come before it.
Or at least just very good.
But at best, Carlo Carlei's Romeo and Juliet is a perfunctory retelling in the most necessary of Shakespeare's original words, dripping with ornamentation, including billowy gowns and dainty poison bottles.
Adapted by Julian Fellowes (Downton Abbey, Gosford Park) and set in the play's original time and place, this retelling is "more inconstant than the wind" (Mercutio's words, not mine). Some slight changes in the script to condense longer lines come off a bit cheesy when compared with some of the more famous monologues in their full splendor. The camera always seems to be a little far or just a bit too uncomfortably close to the actors' faces.
And there's just too much music: the soundtrack sounds like Narnia sprinkled in stardust, too sweepingly dramatic in scenes where a better option was probably no music at all. Perhaps the problem was Fellowes' penchant for a little extra drama, or the acting, which falls all along the talent spectrum. Or both. Either way, it's sub-Shakespeare.
The iconic star-crossed lovers are played by Douglas Booth (whose last movie was LOL with Miley Cyrus) and Hailee Steinfeld (2010's True Grit). Booth is a model, and he makes sense as Romeo until he starts speaking. His performance was bolstered by energetic Mercutio (Christian Cooke) and a dynamic Paul Giamatti as Friar Lawrence.
But we're supposed to be swooning at Romeo's famous ...1