Director: Karen Maine
Screenwriters: Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber
Starring: Kaitlyn Dever, Isabela Merced, Kyle Allen, Sean Teale, Christopher McDonald, Minnie Driver, Bradley Whitford
Turning Shakespeare into a teen comedy isn’t a new concept. From She’s the Man to 10 Things I Hate About You, there’s something about the Bard’s catalogue that is akin to high school drama. With Rosaline, 20th Century Studios and Hulu have capitalised on this to tell a new story within the world of “Romeo and Juliet”, but it’s a film lacking the gravitas to make it a worthwhile expansion.
Based on the book “When You Were Mine” by Rebecca Searle, the story follows Rosaline (Kaitlyn Dever), Romeo’s jilted ex. Rosaline doesn’t take too well to Romeo (Kyle Allen) leaving her for her cousin and proceeds to try to pull them apart. She does this by attempting to re-educate Juliet (Isabela Merced) in the ways of the world, showing her that there is more to life than this one boy. When Juliet learns the truth of their history, things go sour, and the affair between the star-crossed lovers returns to its expected course. However, Rosaline is determined to save these two from their own fate, or maybe just their own stupidity, all the while navigating the suitors that her father (Bradley Whitford) throws at her, including the unexpectedly charming (and very handsome) naval officer Dario (Sean Teale).
Unlike the aforementioned teen comedy classics, Rosaline opts for the traditional Shakespearean setting to tell its story. This allows for some grandiose production and costume design. The locations are all elegant and impressive, and the balcony scenes, of which there are a fair few, are well-staged with a backdrop of large foliage sculptures and fountains. The girls get to wear large dresses with intricate details and design, but the men’s costumes are just as detailed to match – the latter get the extra joy of the accompanying sword or dagger to match the outfit. However, the pitfall of the choice of traditional setting is that the anachronistic nature of everything else can feel jarring.
The language is, for the most part, modern; the soundtrack is compiled of contemporary pop songs; even the character motivations all feel painfully 21st-century. This clash will highlight the awkward humour, for some positively and for some to the film’s detriment, but there is definitely a disconnect. Some have compared it to films such as Amazon Prime’s 2021 Cinderella, which traded the traditional gentle and reserved strength of its protagonist for a #girlboss. Both are completely valid portrayals of strong women, but in forcing the latter into a story better suited to the former, you can’t help but feel that the writers of Cinderella and Rosaline are trying too hard to stay relevant.
While the script isn’t particularly nuanced or enlightening, the cast make the very best of it.
Kaitlyn Dever continues a winning streak, proving her versatility and consistency as an actor. Her return to teen comedies, the genre which saw her breakout performance in 2019’s Booksmart, is certainly welcome. Dever has a dryness to her line delivery that is inherently witty, and even when Rosaline is unlikeable, Dever’s natural charm provokes you into rooting for her. Isabela Merced is also as brilliant as ever in her unique take on Shakespeare’s classic heroine, Juliet. Much like her performance in Dora and the Lost City of Gold, there is an innocence to her presence, but one that comes with a wry and knowing smirk that hints of a maturity we are yet to see.
While this is, by its nature, a film centred around these two women, the supporting men of the film – Kyle Allen, Sean Teale, Spencer Stevenson and Nico Hiraga – each provide some good laughs. The latter two, as Paris and Steve the Courier, provide completely new interpretations of characters we don’t know much about, and do so in a clever and hilarious way, while Sean Teale as Dario is particularly swoon-worthy, his chemistry with Dever being completely compelling and holding an undeniable warmth. The cast also brings more seasoned veterans such as Minnie Driver and Bradley Whitford in to fill background roles. While both are somewhat underused, each time either is on the screen feels like a small delight.
Undoubtedly, the cast of Rosaline had a great time making the film. The sheer fun and joy that oozes from them seems to spill out into each frame. It’s not a particularly challenging or memorable watch, but it is certainly pleasant and enjoyable. For fans of William Shakespeare, it’s not a particularly poetic or ground-breaking re-envisioning of the work, but for fans of teen comedies it fits the bill, and has a good time as it does so. Rosaline is an easy watch for a spare 90 minutes, but it’s not worth the effort of seeking it out for movie night.
Written by Rehana Nurmahi
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