Welcome to the new Netflix Movie Review section of the Bat Cave.
To start us off we have the 1996 film Romeo + Juliet, a modern retelling of classic story with the original Shakespearean dialogue. Featuring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes as the title characters, and Harold Perrineau of Lost fame as a drag queen Mercutio. The story is quite faithful to the original story with modern updates such as swords and daggers becoming guns, and gold becoming cash.
Montagues and Capulets are rival mafia families with a natural enmity for each other which is felt and shared, to a lesser extent, by the younger generation. We are introduced to Romeo who is depressed over his deep love of a Capulet woman named Rosaline, so he gate-crashes a party to meet her but runs into Juliet instead and immediately forgets about the woman he was previously in love with and now proclaims his love for Juliet. The romance is a whirlwind as they see each other in the light of an aquarium, share a kiss in an elevator (with only a few words between them), find out they are from rival families, and that evening proclaim their undying love for each other and become engaged to be married. When all is said and done, the war between the families and the resulting end to the courtship, if we can call it that, is over in the course of a day or so. In all fairness, this is faithful to the original story (minus the aquarium), however, the modern setting elicits modern sensibilities in the audience and the speed of the relationship is hard to take seriously. Nonetheless, the actors are fully invested in their roles and the impact of the final scenes as the tragic play comes to a close is still felt as the actors somehow manage to sell the love between the two characters despite their having known each other for only one day, as shown on screen.
While the essence of the story remains, modernizing the setting but maintaining the classic dialogue causes a clash of styles which is hard to move past. While a modern setting may be more accessible for some viewers, the Shakespearean lines being spoken by gun-toting gangsters and Hawaiian shirted teenagers is a strange juxtaposition which actually makes the material more difficult to understand than the original. Despite those shortcomings, the actors do manage to invest their characters with life and the story is understandable despite the dialogue as the basic nature of the tale is told through the emotional performances of the leads.
In the end, if one is a fan of Shakespeare and does not mind a little creative license in adaptations, this is a passable, if somewhat ridiculous, retelling of a classic. A healthy dose of open-mindedness, weird sense of humour, and appreciation for the absurd would also not be remiss when indulging in this entertainment for an evening. It will certainly be a memorable event.