Love Hurts: Romeo + Juliet At the Coolidge

Nikki Emma ‘25 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

Every Emerson student’s favorite local theater, the Coolidge Corner in Brookline, recently screened Baz Lurhmann’s Romeo + Juliet. The film shown as part of the theater’s “love hurts” series, drew in a large crowd despite its original release being back in 1996. The film has become a cult classic since its release with viewers usually being torn between hating it or adoring it. The campy modern style of the film combined with the usage of the original old English from the story has sparked these extremely divisive reviews. The audience who went to see it on the big screen seemed to be in favor of the film, having numerous conversations while exiting the theater trashing those who dislike it. 

One aspect of the film that is less controversial is the cinematography, which was created by Donald McAlpine and is generally agreed upon as one of the best traits of this film. Seeing these images on the big screen, as they were intended to be viewed, is an amazing experience for audiences. The array of wide shots showing surrealist locations were particularly beautiful on a large screen. Furthermore, seeing this film in theaters added to its campy style. Audiences were almost forced to pay attention to kooky transitions and bizarre shots that they may have missed if viewing the film on a television screen.

One of the most out-there scenes is one where Romeo (Leonardo DiCaprio) heads to a party at Juliet’s (Claire Dane) home. Having taken ecstasy in the scene prior, of course, to add to the absolute insanity of this film based on the Shakespeare story from the 16th century, Romeo stumbles around the party. A disorienting montage follows, combining bright lights, fast-paced editing, and wild sound effects. Mercutio (Harrold Perrineau) also performs in drag as the camera dizzyingly pans around DiCaprio. This scene, with so many small but beautifully-insane details, is one that demands to be viewed in all of its glory on the big screen. The lighting in this film, typically more toned down than the camera work, is also beautiful. On the big screen, one can view every little detail – with gorgeous backlight being a common theme. 

Another element of this film that is also less controversial is Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance. In 1996, when this film was released DiCaprio had yet to become a major star as a result of James Cameron’s massively successful Titanic. Having starred in smaller films such as What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and The Basketball Diaries, DiCaprio was still a fairly unknown but well-respected actor at the time of this release. In this film, he truly cemented himself as being capable to possess the long and respected career he has had today. The story itself, crafted in the 16th century is largely unrealistic, not using the strategies of narrative casualty that modern media employs.

Despite this, DiCaprio does a fantastic job of convincing audiences that despite the lack of realism in the story, his character’s emotions are genuine. In particular, there is a famed scene where Romeo and Juliet stare at each other through a fish tank. In this scene, DiCaprio excels at convincing viewers that he has experienced “love at first sight.” Another fantastic moment from the actor comes from the moment where Romeo learns that Juliet has “died.” It seems that DiCaprio used the knowledge that audiences know the tragic ending that is to follow to ensure the emotional impact of this scene is felt by audiences. The raw emotion he provides in this scene makes it clear to audiences that this modern take on the play will not subvert the tragic ending of the original play. DiCaprio’s anger as he begs to the sky for Juliet to come back makes it clear that his character will no longer behave rationally, cementing the tragic ending audiences expect. 

Baz Lurhmann’s Romeo + Juliet is a film that quite literally demands audience attention for its entire two-hour runtime and viewing it on the screen is by far the most enticing way to experience it. (Plus there is the added benefit of seeing young Leonardo DiCaprio in theaters once again)

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