Over fall vacation, I watched the latest iteration of Shakespeare’s classic “Romeo and Juliet:” “Rosaline.” The live-action film, starring Kaitlyn Dever as the title character, offers another angle to the ‘Romeo and Juliet’ story, retelling the story through the eyes of Rosaline, the ex of Romeo.
In this adaptation, many events from Shakespeare’s original version are the same (would it be “Romeo and Juliet” otherwise?). Romeo (Kyle Allen) and Juliet (Isabela Merced) fall in love at first sight, but they come from opposite families. In this version, the two have to fake their deaths – in a comedic way, as befits a film in the comedy genre. What the film offers is a new sense of the classic; instead of the original tragedy, the only tragedy here is that once he meets Juliet, Romeo abandons Rosaline without giving her a second thought.
“Rosaline” has been called a “feminist” film by outlets such as Variety, which makes sense given that the whole story is about Rosaline trying to win back her love in a patriarchal society where she is treated like property. to marry. Rosaline strives to be the main character in her own romance, which is an admirable desire: a character drive that stirs up themes of gender inequality.
In this reimagining, Romeo is ignorant and unintelligent, pales in comparison to Rosaline’s new suitor, Dario (Sean Teale), who assists Rosaline on her journey. Dario is Rosaline’s love interest, but he’s not one of the tale’s focal points, like Romeo was in Juliet’s. The title of the film is “Rosaline”, not “Rosaline and Dario”.
Although I have some qualms about how the whole “Rosaline” concept is executed – especially since it all happens too fast – I still appreciate how the film is able to provide another new angle to see “Romeo and Juliet”. The humor in this reimagining is palpable, especially in poking fun at the characters’ shortcomings and moving away from the centering of the two “main” characters.
However, reimaginings don’t have to tell the story from the perspective of an entirely new character to have merit. It may just come from a new perspective. An example I can think of is “Gnomeo and Juliet”, the 2011 animated film directed by Kelly Asbury.
In “Gnomeo and Juliet”, Romeo, renamed Gnomeo, reflects on the fact that he and Juliet are garden gnomes. Voiced by James McAvoy and Emily Blunt respectively, Gnomeo and Juliet are lovers of cursed gnomes, each living in yards on different sides of the fence. The gnomes’ relationships reflect the enmity of their human neighbors, Mr. Capulet (Richard Wilson) and Mrs. Montague (Julie Walters) – Juliet is one of the red hat gnomes on Mr. Capulet’s side, while Gnomeo is one of the blue -Hat of the gnomes on Mrs. Montague’s side.
Besides transplanting Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” into the lives of modern garden gnomes, “Gnomeo and Juliet” is particularly suited to the animated medium due to its use of everyday objects. Shakespeare’s original tale is set in Verona, Italy during the Renaissance period, which is a beautiful place but may seem inaccessible to viewers. Having storytelling in everyday backyards makes it more fun. The story may also be more engaging because the audience may be more familiar with the setting and objects of the tale, especially since we may wonder what our inanimate objects are doing when we are not around.
The statue of Shakespeare even comes to life and speaks to Gnomeo in the film about the parallels between Gnomeo’s story and his play of “Romeo and Juliet”, which I guess is a very meta moment that pays homage to the source material. Overall, “Gnomeo and Juliet” is a memorable work as it makes full use of the artistic freedoms and capabilities of animation to reimagine Shakespeare’s original tale.
Similar to “Rosaline”, “Gnomeo and Juliet” translates what was originally a tragic tale into a comedy. The difference is that while the former is live action, the latter is an animated film. I think, however, that the two have a lot in common in that they take references from Shakespeare and use that inspiration for the details of their own stories.
If reading Shakespeare was hard for you as it was for me in high school, maybe try one of these movies. They are digestible, innovative in a modern sense and, I know for me personally, distract me from the often “tragic” events in my own life.
Valerie Wu is a senior author on animation and digital arts from a contemporary perspective. Its “Animated” section airs every other Tuesday.