Hope, Despair, Lawn Ornaments: “Romeo & Juliet” and “Gnomeo & Juliet”
Shakespeare’s plays were constructed on the backs of literary giants, and his tragedies continue to appear throughout modern popular culture. With the blessing of bloated studio execs, the characters of Romeo and Juliet find themselves transposed into two young starlets (Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes) and two garden gnomes. One is a mess of boring CGI and garden ornaments singing and dancing to Elton John tunes, while the other is a surprisingly good mix of Shakespearean dialogue and effeminate gangsters.
Speaking of Elton John…ugh!
I was never a fan of director Baz Luhrmann, but I think he nailed it with Romeo & Juliet (1996). The rhythm of Shakespeare dialogue can be very quick and fast-paced, so the spastic editing and sped up images that usually annoy in most of his films strangely fit here. A bizarre universe adorned in religious imagery, Romeo & Juliet exists in a gawdy Californification of colors with poetry recited by the unsure lips of Hollywood’s most famous stars (John Leguizamo, anyone?). Just look at these freaks. What planet would you figure they come from?
Gnomeo & Juliet (2011), on the other hand, is clearly aimed at kids. With that in mind, I intend to cut it some slack. For one, Shakespeare makes an appearance. Also, although the CGI gnomes are cute, it really didn’t help that I was staring at the beautiful, youthful faces of Danes and DiCaprio before I watched this.
Within the film, an all-out war between red gnomes and the blue gnomes takes place, which leads the viewer to believe that it could be subtle commentary on the red state vs. blue state feud that rises up in every American election cycle. However, the film is mostly just about frogs and butts.
Overall, the two movies work well as a double feature — you can reach out to various age ranges in the family with one of the Bard’s best works. If you don’t feel like a full night of movies, at least check out Luhrmann’s version.