This modern Shakespeare tale turns an overworked tragedy into a modern romantic comedy, helmed by a powerhouse performance by Kaitlyn Dever.
*This review contains slight spoilers!*
Modernizing Shakespeare is not a new concept. Baz Luhrman’s Romeo + Juliet (1996) arguably sets a gold standard for placing a Shakespearean tragedy in the modern world. Films like Shakespeare in Love (1998) have provided modern takes on Shakespeare himself. Disney has even managed to re-tell classic Shakespeare tragedies with lions. Surely, after hundreds of years of telling these stories in hundreds of different settings and adaptations, there’s no possibility for a fresh take on Shakespeare, right? Enter Rosaline.
Rosaline, Karen Maine’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, tells the classic story of Romeo and Juliet from the perspective of Rosaline (Kaitlyn Dever), Juliet’s cousin and Romeo’s former lover. After Rosaline clumsily fumbles through Romeo’s profession of love for her, she accidentally sets a plan in motion that leads him to cross paths with her cousin, Juliet. As Rosaline desperately tries to break Romeo and Juliet up (and win Romeo back), she finds herself stumbling into love with Dario (Sean Teale), the man her family wishes for her to marry. While the underlying story of Romeo and Juliet remains, Rosaline gives this classic tale a modern rom-com makeover.
Kaitlyn Dever shines as the titular character, Rosaline. Her dry sense of humor, quick-witted quips, and intently dramatic demeanor are easily the best parts of the film. Given Rosaline possesses a generally vindictive and bitter demeanor throughout the film, it would have been easy for her to be presented as a character that we should not root for. Yet, Dever adds a level of humanity and magnetic charm to her, that allows Rosaline to keep her status as a heroine (albeit, a flawed one). Isabela Merced’s Juliet serves as a nice foil to Rosaline, presented as graceful, patient, and kind, while Kyle Allen’s Romeo embodies perfect “himbo” energy. The result: an entertaining love triangle that, despite being a bit predictable, finds a way to tell a Shakespearian signature in a way that feels fresh, which is no small feat. Minnie Driver also gives a standout performance as Rosaline’s nurse.
While Romeo and Juliet is classified as a tragedy, Rosaline does not reflect such in the slightest. The screenplay is fast-paced (with a tight 96 minute runtime), peppered with humor, and plays to Shakespearean tropes with a level of self-awareness that only adds to the humor. The film is set in the Renaissance, but the characters approach life in a manner that feels modern.
The production and costume design for this film are gorgeous- keeping the sweeping romanticism of the Renaissance era, with an overall soft hue to underscore that romanticism. The use of music in this film is also quite brilliant. Immediately following the opening scene, Natalie Cole’s “This Will Be (An Everlasting Love)” plays, instantly cuing the audience in that this is not your ninth grade English class’s Romeo and Juliet. This is the one where everyone gets a happy ending. After Rosaline catches Romeo and Juliet kissing, she is immediately found crying in her room, while a violinist plays Celine Dion’s “All By Myself.” It’s a perfect marriage of keeping the balance of the Shakespearean feel and cheeky humor one expects out of a romantic comedy. The film also gives a few modern songs a Renaissance-style twist (which is very reminiscent of the Bridgerton soundtracks) that only adds to the dualism of styles in an effective way.
While Rosaline does fall slightly victim to predictability, it is a fun, light-hearted watch, that will appeal to any romantic comedy fanatic. Kaitlyn Dever flawlessly earns her right to be a leading lady, and the film’s ability to actually offer a modern take on an otherwise over-done source material is impressive.
Should Be Considered: Best Original Score, Best Costumes
Where To Watch: Hulu
Lives in NC, where she is on a first name basis with the owners of her favorite pho spot.
Favorite Actress: Angela Bassett