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Film / William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet

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"Two households, both alike in dignity, in fair Verona, where we lay our scene. From ancient grudge break to new mutiny, where civil blood makes civil hands unclean. From forth the fatal loins of these two foes, a pair of star-crossed lovers take their life, whose misadventured piteous overthrows doth with their death bury their parent's strife. The fearful passage of their death marked love, and the continuance of their parent's rage, which but their children's end not could remove, is now the two hours' traffic of our stage."
The prologue, delivered via television news anchor

A modern adaptation of William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet released in 1996, directed by Baz Luhrmann and starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes in the title roles.

It notably updates the setting to modern California (in a fictional modern American city with heavy Hispanic influences called "Verona Beach"), but keeps most of the original dialogue from the play, creating a rather unique adaptation. For example, the Montagues and Capulets are shown as warring mafia empires, and swords are replaced with guns (with brand names like "Sword" and "Dagger"). Consequently, apart from the setting, the film is, surprisingly, one of the most dialogue-faithful adaptations of the play ever made. Due to its faithfulness and modern setting, it has been presented in numerous high school English classes.

Of course, most of the tropes which apply to Romeo and Juliet also apply to this film. Compare the 1936 version, Romeo and Juliet, and the acclaimed 1968 version, Romeo and Juliet. Of course, one should not confuse this adaptation with the various others, especially one other that also uses a mathematical symbol in its title, Romeo X Juliet.

The Montague family is played by Brian Dennehy, Christina Pickles (Lord and Lady Montague, here named Ted and Caroline), and Dash Mihok (Benvolio); Jesse Bradford, Zak Orth, and Jamie Kennedy play Montague cousins. The Capulet family is played by Paul Sorvino, Diane Venora (Lord and Lady Capulet, here named Fulgencio and Gloria), John Leguizamo (Tybalt), Vincent Laresca (Abra), and Miriam Margolyes (Nurse). The supporting cast is rounded out by Harold Perrineau as Mercutio, Paul Rudd as Paris, and Vondie Curtis-Hall as the Prince Escalus figure.

A song Radiohead wrote for the movie, "Exit Music (For a Film)", would later be included on their album OK Computer the following year; it was excluded from the film's soundtrack album as a result.

This film contains examples of:

  • Adaptational Context Change:
    • In the first scene, the lines of the servants of Montague and Capulet are changed, so it is the Montagues that offend the Capulets, not the other way around as in the original play. The lines and motives of Benvolio and Tybalt are not changed, however.
    • Romeo's line "thy drugs work quick" was originally his second-to-last words before he died from suicidal poisioning in Juliet's crypt. Here, it is moved to the ball scene, where "Queen Mab" is actually a drug—analogous to Ecstasy—given to Romeo by Mercutio. He says the line before Mercutio's big song.
    • In the original play, Mercutio said "A plague o' both your houses" immediately after being stabbed. In film, he only says it after "Ay, ay, a scratch, a scratch", upon realizing the wound is fatal.
    • Romeo originally said the line "Tempt not a desperate man" when confronting Paris in the Capulet family vault. In the movie, where Paris is Spared by the Adaptation, he says it when taking a human shield against the VBPD SWAT cops outside the vault.
  • Adaptational Jerkass: Many characters:
    • Tybalt starts beating up Romeo when the latter refuses to fight him, forcing Mercutio to intervene.
    • Romeo as well. In the play, Tybalt returns to the scene after killing Mercutio, and Romeo kills him in a duel. Here, Romeo chases Tybalt down quite violently, and shoots him repeatedly in (more or less) cold blood. He also engages in a shoot-out with the police at the climax.
    • Lord Capulet verbally abuses Juliet when she won't marry Paris in the play, but never physically hurts her or his wife. Here, he's a full-blown domestic abuser.
  • Adaptation-Induced Plot Hole: At the end, Captain Prince claims to have "lost a brace of kinsmen", as he does in the play, in reference to Mercutio's death. But Paris is (apparently) still alive and doesn't seem to be related to him, which raises the question of who the other "kinsman" he lost is. Although, since there is no real indication that Mercutio is related to Captain Prince, it is possible that, through context change, "a brace of kinsmen" might mean "some fine officers".
  • Adaptation Name Change: Abra (originally Abram or Abraham, a servant of Montague in the original play), now associated with the Capulets.
  • Age Lift: The 13-year-old Juliet in the play is now a 16-year-old; Lord Capulet's mention of her being less than 14 is noticeably cut. Romeo's age was unspecified in the play, but he's also 16 years old in this movie.
  • A.K.A.-47: Justified. Guns carry brand names like "Dagger", "Sword", "Rapier" and "Longsword" to keep within Shakespeare's original script.
  • Almost Kiss: The second time Romeo and Juliet try to kiss, they are interrupted by the ding of a bell. Quickly subverted seconds later as the two enter an elevator and kiss in there.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Mercutio. He plays a drag queen to boot. Tybalt manages to provoke Mercutio into hostilities with a homophobic taunt of "Mercutio! Thou consortest with Romeo!", removing a considerable amount of ambiguity to many viewers.
  • Anachronism Stew: One of the most memorable parts of this adaptation is that the setting has been modernized but everyone still speaks in Shakespeare's famous flowery dialect.
  • Artistic License – Law: Captain Prince is a modern police chief, but seems to have unlimited authority, threatening to execute the families' leaders over a street brawl, and Romeo is "exiled" for killing Tybalt, rather than arrested.
  • A-Team Firing: When Romeo returns to Verona, neither he nor the police land a shot on each other.
  • Bad Guys Play Pool: Well, the rivaling Montague clan plays pool while watching news reports on TV.
  • Balcony Wooing Scene: Spoofed when Romeo climbs up to Juliet's balcony for the famous scene... only for her maid to appear instead. Romeo quickly ducks out of sight, but then Juliet exits an elevator on the ground floor, so he doesn't have to climb anywhere. When Romeo tries to introduce himself, he startles her so much they both fall into the pool.
  • Big Brother Worship: Romeo's feelings towards Benvolio, who is actually his cousin and not his brother.
  • Big "NO!": Romeo after Mercutio's death.
  • Black Dude Dies First: You got it — Mercutio.
  • Bling-Bling-BANG!: Romeo, Sampson, Mercutio and Tybalt carry some of the most elaborately decorated pistols in film history with gold plating, custom magazines with family crests and decorated grips. Tybalt's Rapier 9mm particularly stands out. Even his pistol's magazines have the Capulet family crest on them.
  • Boss Subtitles: Every time a new character is introduced, their name and role within the houses are shown (likely for the benefit of those who haven’t seen the play before).
  • Broken Record: The "either thou, or I, or both must go with him" line said by Romeo to Tybalt once in the original is screamed over and over again in this version.
  • Bulletproof Vest: Most, if not all, of the younger Capulets wear bulletproof vests styled to look like waistcoats. Notably, the Montagues don't wear vests, favoring unbuttoned Hawaiian shirts, as a sign that they're not intimidated by the Capulets.
  • Camp: Guess who? Especially when Mercutio performs in drag at the Capulets' party.
  • Car Fu: Romeo and Tybalt's fight involves this.
  • Character Narrator: The intro and ending statements are made as a television news broadcast. It counts as this trope, as the same reporter also takes the lines originally associated with an unnamed Capulet servant which announces the party that Mercutio later helps Romeo and his kinsmen crash.
  • Chase Scene: As part of the modernized setting, there are several high-speed car chases, often pursued personally by Captain Prince in a police helicopter:
    • Benvolio and Tybalt do this for the opening quarrel.
    • Romeo and Tybalt do this, with Romeo gunning Tybalt down in a fountain; also involves some Car Fu.
    • Romeo's flight to Juliet's crypt becomes this as well, with Romeo at one point taking a human shield before making it to the crypt.
  • Chewing the Scenery: Vondie Curtis Hall as Captain Prince. He seems to be channeling Samuel L. Jackson, and doing so magnificently.
  • Christianity is Catholic: Loads and loads of Catholic iconography is in this movie — to the point of being over-the-top. Partially justified as it revolves around feuding Italian mafia families living in a Latin American community.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: What happened to Paris? In the original story he was killed by Romeo, but in this version, he disappears without explanation. The Prince's line about having "lost a brace of kinsmen" is a reference to the deaths of Mercutio and Paris.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: Montagues wear Hawaiian shirts, while Capulets mostly wear summer suits and bulletproof vests bejazzled with Catholic iconography.
  • Creator Cameo: In Friar Lawrence's church there's a large mural of Jesus on one of the walls which is based on the likeness of screenwriter Craig Pierce.
  • Death Wail: Juliet forgoes her final speech for one of these.
  • Died in Your Arms Tonight:
    • Mercutio dies in Romeo's arms.
    • After Juliet wakes up just too late to stop Romeo taking the poison, he dies in her arms.
  • Dies Differently in Adaptation: Due to the modernization of this film replacing the swords with guns, instead of stabbing herself in the heart at the end, Juliet shoots herself in the head.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Romeo and Juliet die in the same positions they were in just after they had sex a couple of nights before.
  • Downer Ending: But of course.
  • Dramatic Wind: Mercutio's death happens as the Sycamore Grove beach is getting hit with winds so strong it nearly tears the characters' clothes off.
  • Driven to Suicide: Romeo and Juliet, but you should know that already.
  • Dying Curse: From Mercutio, of course.
  • The Dying Walk: Mercutio does this after his Dying Curse, walking away from the site of his fight with Tybalt, and shoving away Romeo when he tries to help Mercutio. Then he collapses on the beach and dies there.
  • Elevator Going Down: During the ball scene.
  • Everyone Is Armed: It's fair to say that most characters are carrying pimped out guns at all times. In many cases, the characters are openly carrying firearms.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Radiohead's song that plays over the end credits is named "Exit Music (For a Film)".
  • The Film of the Play: In spite of the Setting Update, this adaptation keeps the original dialogue.
  • Finger-Twitching Revival: Juliet is revived just as Romeo is preparing to drink the poison!
  • Flowery Elizabethan English: Despite taking place in modern times, everybody speaks in the same dialect as Shakespeare's time.
  • Gun Fu: This particular version of the Shakespearean play is pretty big on the gunplay, both in the opening scene and in the shootout between Romeo and the cops near the end. Interestingly, guns in this movie are given the names of swords, since the Shakespearean dialogue is almost completely intact.
  • Gun Porn: Benvolio, Tybalt, and Mercutio sport some of the most beautifully awesome pistols to ever grace the silver screen. Even guns that belong to nameless extras and only get maybe a second of screen time are decked out with gold detailing and the like.
  • The Gunslinger: Most of the characters use guns, but Tybalt in particular gives this impression.
  • Gun Twirling: Tybalt does this briefly during the gas station shootout.
  • Happier Times Montage: Shown after their mutual suicide.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: Drag queen Mercutio plays up the potential for this in his lines wherever possible.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Tybalt is shot with his own gun by Romeo.
  • Hollywood Kiss: Guess who?
  • In Case You Forgot Who Wrote It: Baz Luhrmann's William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet
  • Inelegant Blubbering: Romeo.
  • Interplay of Sex and Violence: Romeo and Juliet die in the same pose as their post-coital embrace.
  • Irony: The slogan for the Phoenix gas station which gets blown up in the opening gunfight is 'Add more fuel to your fire' (it also is a quotation from Henry VI part 3).
  • Knight Errant: Romeo is dressed up in armor at the Capulet's party and he calls himself a pilgrim who has traveled to the shrine of Juliet.
  • Large Ham: Half of the cast just can't seem to resist being hammy. The hammiest of all is definitely Mercutio, though.
  • Lucky Charms Title: "Romeo + Juliet" rather than "Romeo and Juliet."
  • Madness Mantra: As Romeo goes to town on Tybalt after the latter has killed Mercutio, he repeatedly shouts "Either thou, or I, or both must go with him!" as he punches away.
  • Masquerade Ball: The Capulets' party is more like a costume party, though.
  • Meet Cute: Instead of going the Dance of Romance route, this adaption has Romeo and Juliet meet from opposite sides of a fish tank in a giggle-inducing scene.
  • Mind Screw: Romeo takes drugs before the party and sees Tybalt kissing his own aunt, Mercutio singing in drag and the room spinning. Considering who directs the film, it should be expected.
  • Mistimed Revival: Juliet wakes up just too late to stop Romeo killing himself. This adaptation makes the timing almost unbearable.
  • Modesty Bedsheet: Juliet wears one the morning after she sleeps with Romeo. Its strategic placement also helps conceal Romeo putting his pants back on.
  • Mushroom Samba: Mercutio gives Romeo a hit of "Queen Mab" (MDMA, a.k.a. ecstasy) before the party. The line "thy drugs are quick" is moved from the suicide scene to here for added effect.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: After Romeo loses the initial buzz of anger-fueled adrenaline during his killing Tybalt, his face quite notably changes to an expression of shock and regret as Romeo begins to become horrified with what he's done.
  • No Indoor Voice: About half of the dialogue is screamed in an apparent attempt to make it more exciting for younger audiences.
  • Noisy Guns: Romeo finds himself looking down the barrel of a double-barrelled shotgun... accompanied by the sound of a shell being pumped into the chamber.
  • No More for Me: Romeo takes drugs before the party and thinks he’s hallucinating when he sees Tybalt kissing his own aunt and Mercutio singing in drag.
  • Oh, Crap!: Romeo, in a dramatic moment that doesn't occur in the original play.
  • Orbital Kiss: Romeo and Juliet share a kiss in an elevator — which was actually too small to fit cast and crew inside. There were a lot of breathless grips running around the outside of the tiny lift set, removing and replacing panels to allow the steadicam to move freely around the couple.
  • Period Piece, Modern Language: Inverted. The film is set in the 1990s, but keeps the original play's dialogue down to the Elizabethan dialect, with only a few minor changes.
  • Phony Newscast: The Prologue (as well as epilogue) are reinterpreted this way.
  • Pretty Little Headshots: Juliet's suicide.
  • Prince Charmless: Paris is a preppy pompous ass.
  • Promoted to Love Interest: There are hints throughout the movie that Tybalt and Lady Capulet are having an affair. They smoke the same brown cigarettes, they make out during the costume party, and Lady Capulet weeps over Tybalt's dead body and shouts "Romeo killed Tybalt, Romeo must not live!"
  • Race Lift: The play takes place in Italy, so both families are Italian. Here, the Montegues are exclusively Anglo, note  while the Capulets are a mix of Italians and Latinos, with a few black people sprinkled in.
    • Captain Prince and his kinsman Mercutio are black in this, but oddly Paris (who in the play is related to the Prince and Mercutio) is Anglo. This explains why the family relationship between Paris and Prince is not mentioned — but that leaves hanging a line mentioned where Prince explains that he lost two family members as well — that line was referring to Mercutio and Paris. This could also be a simpler plot hole since Paris is Spared by the Adaptation.
    • Some viewers interpret this as the Montagues being NORTHERN Italians, who had a lot of French and German influence compared to southern Italians.
  • Really Dead Montage: After Romeo and Juliet die there is a montage of their happiest moments together, complete with tragic background music.
  • Related Differently in the Adaptation: In the film, Sampson and Gregory are associated with the Montagues, and Abra (see Adaptation Name Change) is with the Capulets. In the original play, Sampson and Gregory are with the Capulets, and Abram is with the Montagues.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: The Capulets and Montagues are differentiated this way, with the Capulets being angry and sharply dressed, while the Montegues are more clownish and wear casual Hawaiian shirts.
  • Ring on a Necklace: Following his secret forbidden marriage to Juliet and his banishment for killing Tybalt, Romeo wears his wedding ring on a chain. When he visits the supposedly dead Juliet in her tomb, Romeo pulls the necklace off to place the ring on her finger, with the chain still attached.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Romeo goes on one after Mercutio dies.
  • Rule of Cool: Half of what Tybalt does can only be described as this.
  • Say My Name:
  • Secret Stab Wound/Mortal Wound Reveal: Mercutio, after being stabbed, pretends his injury is not that serious.
  • Serious Work, Comedic Scene: This film has Mercutio dressed in drag at the party scene, along with Tybalt roaring. The rest of the film is as serious as the original play, albeit set in a modern era.
  • Setting Update: From Late Medieval/Renaissance Italy to Modern-Day Southern California.
  • Sexy Soaked Shirt: Both Juliet (wearing a white dress no less) and Romeo fall into her pool in the balcony scene. Romeo later gets drenched by rain after leaving Juliet's room.
  • Skyward Scream:
    • Romeo, on realising Tybalt's death and its consequences. "I AM FORTUNE'S FOOOOOOOOOOOOOOL!"
    • "A plague, ON BOTH YOUR HOUSES!" ([Mercutio, right before his death)
  • Spared by the Adaptation:
    • Paris isn't killed by Romeo in this version of the story.
    • This adaptation leaves out Lady Montague's Death by Despair and lets her mourn Romeo's death with her husband in the final scene.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Guess who.
  • Sunshine Noir: There's a good amount of influence from Scarface and Miami Vice on the film's aesthetic, in addition to dovetailing with the similar aesthetic of pop stars such as Ricky Martin and Gloria Estefan who were popular when the movie came out.
  • Symbolic Wings: Juliet wears an angel costume at the party. This costume is her most iconic and is shown prevalently in promotional material.
  • Toplessness from the Back: Juliet on her wedding night.
  • Undercrank: Used for stylistic effect.
  • Unrelated in the Adaptation: Implied to be the case with Dave Paris and Captain Prince. They have different surnames, the lines mentioning them to be blood relatives are cut, and while Prince is made into a black man, Paris notably isn't.
  • Walking Shirtless Scene: Benvolio primarily, but most of the Montague boys can't seem to button their shirts.
  • Virgin in a White Dress: Juliet, the young romantic heroine, wears a white dress until after losing her virginity. She is even wearing a white angel costume when she first meets Romeo.
  • White Shirt of Death:
    • In addition to being introduced as a Virgin in a White Dress, Juliet dies wearing a white dress as well.
    • Mercutio is also wearing a white shirt when he's fatally slashed by Tybalt.
  • Widow's Weeds: Juliet's mother wears a black veil during Juliet's staged funeral.
  • World of Ham: The film is basically Shakespeare reimagined in an overwrought 90s style.
  • Would Hurt a Child: In his first scene, Tybalt shows no compunction about threatening a young child by putting a gun in his face.


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