Rosaline (Review) – Wherefore Art Thou, Romeo’s Ex?

DIRECTOR: Karen Maine

CAST: Kaitlyn Dever, Isabela Merced, Kyle Allen, Bradley Whitford, Spencer Stevenson, Sean Teale, Minnie Driver, Miloud Mourad Benamara, Christopher McDonald

RUNNING TIME: 97 mins

CERTIFICATE: 12A

BASICALLY…: After being dumped by Romeo (Allen) for her cousin Juliet (Merced), Rosaline (Dever) attempts to break them up…

NOW FOR THE REVIEW…

The most tragic character in William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet isn’t either one of the two titular star-crossed lovers (yes, even though theirs isn’t a happily-ever-after type of ending), but the one character who is never shown, and only mentioned about ten times in the whole play. Rosaline, the object of Romeo’s eye before it wanders toward another, must have been all sorts of heartbroken when she learned that her beloved had so rapidly moved on, a thought which now forms the basis for this revisionist take on the classic love story, which places Rosaline herself at the very centre of the whirlwind romance, and gives the character an amusing – if a tad safe and predictable – angle to finally have her say.

Simply titled Rosaline, the film takes us back to fair Verona when the dashing young Romeo Montague (Kyle Allen) whispers sweet nothings into the ears of his beloved, the maiden Rosaline Capulet (Kaitlyn Dever), despite both being from two warring families. However, her romantic ambitions come to a grinding halt when Romeo meets and instantly falls for Rosaline’s cousin Juliet (Isabela Merced), causing his scorned ex to try and drive a wedge between the newfound lovers, in an ill-fated attempt to win him back. Along the way, Rosaline herself begins to question whether it’s worth breaking up the famous couple, especially when she starts getting closer to potential new suitor Dario (Sean Teale) who could possibly give her what the rather empty-minded Romeo cannot.

In the same way that Romeo and Juliet is considered the prototypical romantic drama, Rosaline is in many ways a prototypical teen comedy, one that just so happens to be set in the same universe as Shakespeare’s play. The story itself unfolds like a typical teen-centric rom-com like Clueless or 10 Things I Hate About You (the latter also being a modernized version of Shakespeare), featuring many of the familiar traits that one would expect in those sorts of films, from the petty relationship rivalries to the inclusion of the gay best friend – who, in a pretty funny twist, turns out to be Paris (Spencer Stevenson), Juliet’s betrothed in the original play – all of which play out in the exact ways you would expect them to. It’s also one of those historical films where everyone speaks in modern-day lingo and draws a few parallels to present technology (Rosaline’s constant writing of letters to her Romeo, only to be continuously ghosted by him, might as well be accompanied by that swoosh sound effect whenever a text is sent), which might be rather distracting for those who aren’t completely on board with that trope. As for how it redoes the familiar beats in that famous play, once again it’s pretty much how you’d expect, aside from a conclusion which some Shakespeare die-hards might not entirely agree with.

The film is slight, easy to predict, and unwilling to go as far with its ambitions as its core concept might suggest, but Rosaline is a likeable enough film that gets in a few good laughs every now and then, largely from the comedic timing of these actors. Kaitlyn Dever, who has already proven herself on numerous occasions to have a strong comedic presence to go along with her charismatic delivery, leans greatly into her sardonic style of humour to make her Rosaline a digestible, if not always sympathetic, protagonist. She has some good chemistry with Sean Teale, and the two of them strike a believable enough rapport with one another, even if you know right away where the two of them are going to end up once they start bickering moments after meeting. Supporting turns by Minnie Driver, Bradley Whitford and Christopher McDonald also do their job, and as for Romeo and Juliet themselves, they are unlikely sources for some of the film’s funniest moments, which Kyle Allen – who could easily pass for a young Heath Ledger here with his rather floppy locks – and Isabela Merced respectively handle with their unflinching naivety, particularly when the movie addresses the fact that despite falling madly in love with each other at first sight, they really don’t know that much about each other.

It’s competently made, with director Karen Maine providing some handsome if unspectacular views of the surrounding greenery, and writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber occasionally find a few fun spots to drill into the play’s legacy and long-lasting flaws. However, for all of its attempts to revise a timeless love story, Rosaline falls a little short of setting its own path, sticking too closely to convention and formula to really break free of the traditional romance trappings that it constantly pokes fun at. Playing things a bit too safe, even for a story where nearly everyone knows its ending, Rosaline is okay, but never really smells as sweet as a rose by any other name.

SO, TO SUM UP…

Rosaline is a decent revisionist take on the classic tale of Romeo and Juliet that gives Kaitlyn Dever plenty of chances to flex her charisma and comedic muscles, and often strikes some funny mocking of the play’s notable flaws, but it plays things a bit too safe and sticks too closely to convention to truly stand out.

Rosaline is now available to stream on Disney+

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