Adam and I watched Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet last night, and I still cannot decide whether or not I actually liked the film.
Really, the heart of the problem comes down to the first 30ish minutes or so. It was almost painful. I reached for the remote a few times. I asked–out loud–“Why are we still watching this?” I thought to myself, There is no way that my students are going to tolerate this. I fumed over the fact that Queen Mab the fairy had been reduced to an illicit drug. I had a hard time taking Mercutio seriously. I was distracted by the hair and costume of almost every major character. I was watching a movie that was trying way too hard to be cool.
But then Leonardo DiCaprio’s Romeo meets Claire Danes’ Juliet through the fish tank, and the movie picks up considerably. I was actually quite impressed by the staging of the balcony scene. DiCaprio staring in awe of Danes–back flat against the wall–as she recites “O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo? / Deny thy father and refuse thy name” is priceless. Danes brings just the perfect touch of innocence to the character of Juliet to make the love story believable. From there, the story is that of a fast-paced inevitable tragedy.
So yes, I’ll probably show this in class–and most likely before my students have even picked up a book, just so that they have an idea of the story in their heads. I’m hoping that this will help us when we tackle the language. My husband actually gave me an awesome idea as well last night. As we were watching, he picked up the remote and turned on the subtitles. I suddenly found myself more consciously taking in the language. I’ll definitely be using this trick when my students watch the film so that they can see the language with the visual before we even start to read. (Thanks, honey!)
Only one question remains: Will my students be able to survive the first 30 minutes?