Are all Shakespearean adaptations alike? That is the question, and the answer is quite obviously "No." Not all of the Bard's plays are appropriate for younger viewers, but "Romeo and Juliet" is usually a student's introduction to Shakespeare's tragedies, because what could be more compelling to teens than a story about doomed star-crossed lovers? Enter this new adaptation of "Romeo and Juliet," directed by Italian filmmaker Carlo Carlei and adapted by Oscar-winning screenwriter Julian Fellowes. It stars Douglas Booth, a swoon-worthy Brit, as Romeo and rising American actress Hailee Steinfeld as Juliet. There's no need to give a synopsis of the story, but it's notable that the filmmakers want to make this adaptation accessible to teen audiences -- the official hashtag is #forbiddenlove -- instead of older audiences who are firmly attached to the previous cinematic adaptations or reinterpretations of the play .
Here are five issues to consider before taking your tween or teen to see "Romeo and Juliet."
1. How sensitive is your kid to violence? It's Shakespeare, so there are a lot of deaths. OK, not as many as in the bloody plays like "Titus Andronicus" or even "Hamlet," but still, as Friar Laurence presciently says "these violent delights have violent ends," and in "Romeo and Juliet" those violent ends include each of them losing a beloved cousin and friend and then of course, each other. Murder! Suicide! It's a tragedy, so expect sensitive young viewers to cry at the injustice, "for never was a story of more woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo."
2. Do you want them to "Read It, Then See It"? "Romeo and Juliet" is traditionally part of 8th or 9th grade English curricula, so if your teen has already read the play in school, they've likely already seen either the 1996 Baz Luhrmann or the 1968 Franco Zeffirelli adaptations (most likely Luhrmann's, since Zeffirelli's contains nudity). In that case, this new adaptation provides a wonderful opportunity for your teen to contrast and compare adaptations and see which version they prefer best. If your teen hasn't read or seen "Romeo and Juliet" but is still familiar with its themes and storyline, watching it performed on screen should launch an interest in reading the play or going to a local production of it.
3. Do you worry about sex/language? Since the language is Shakespeare's Elizabethan English, it's unlikely your kids will pick up on all of the double entendres, but it's 100 percent certain that your kid will notice just how attractive Romeo (Douglas Booth) and Juliet (Hailee Steinfeld) are... particularly the heir of Montague. Prepare for some teen swooning at the sight of Romeo ("oh Romeo!"): the first shot is of him is so over the top (loose-fitting shirt, chest glistening with sweat, pouty lips, bedroom eyes), you'll wonder if this is Shakespeare or a teen soap on the CW. The 15-year-old girl who accompanied me to the screening put it best when she said: "Romeo was distractingly beautiful. I had a hard time paying attention to anything but him." As for the actual sex, there's tons of kissing (most of it shot in close up) but only one very tasteful love scene that is slightly more subdued than the Claire and Leo version (and obviously there's no nudity like in the Zeffirelli).
4. Who will enjoy the movie most? In addition to serious young thespians who want to see every Shakespeare adaptation, this version will appeal most to young teens who love the story of "Romeo and Juliet" and haven't gotten attached to another adaptation. It's an easy-to-follow (and understand) introduction to the play. Neither of the two leads is a huge name yet, but they are both attractive rising stars (Steinfeld already has an Academy Award nomination for her work in "True Grit" and Booth is in four upcoming movies), plus "Gossip Girl" alum Ed Westwick is Tybalt; "Homeland" star Damian Lewis is Lord Capulet and the always memorable Paul Giamatti is Friar Laurence.
5. What are critics saying about "Romeo and Juliet"? Reviews for the latest "Romeo and Juliet" adaptation have been underwhelming with a mixed 45 on Metacritic and a 32 on Rotten Tomatoes. But some of the more positive reviews admit it will play well with younger audiences: "Starter Shakespeare for the "Twilight" generation... This version is never rough, nor rude, nor boisterous, but for first-timers, perhaps wisely and slow is the way to go. There will be time enough for them to discover cinema's superior adaptations anon," says Elizabeth Weitzman, New York Daily News. Critic Connie Ogle of "The Miami Herald" is even more complimentary: "Carlei's film is not particularly imaginative in terms of context, but it offers proof that this material never tarnishes, that with the right sort of movie magic, even a traditional telling can be thrilling."