The tiny list of classic Shakespeare-to-screen adaptations won’t be lengthened with this serviceable version of the playwright’s popular bummer—shouldn’t we expect something edgier for a new generation? The counterculture swooned for its hippyish love duo in Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 sensation, while Gen Xers thrilled to Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 Leo + Claire pairing. This new Romeo and Juliet, meanwhile, comes with a capably condensed script by Julian Fellowes (Downton Abbey) and sports an Oscar-nominated Juliet (Hailee Steinfeld of True Grit). But when your eyes stray to Paul Giamatti’s apothecary or Lesley Manville’s frenetic nurse, you know there’s a central deficiency in charm.
Steinfeld, an earthy presence, invests her moments with unusual directness, particularly the big balcony scene. But spinning around her is one of those too-clean productions suitable for a high-end Ren fair; Douglas Booth makes an especially plastic suitor. Doomed love will never go out of style, but would it have killed director Carlo Carlei to inject the proceedings with some modern-day aloofness? Today’s version will likely become a cheat sheet for slacking students, but it won’t inspire them to open their hearts to the text.
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