SXSW Film Review: R#J

New Romeo and Juliet may divide like Capulets and Montagues

If Romeo and Juliet were penned today, it’s certain that elements of the story would take place online and a few integral plot devices would be misconstrued by the ease of communication. Viewed almost entirely through the confines of a smartphone, the latest adaptation, R#J, fits this modern day mold exactly.

Director Carey Williams handles it more carefully than you’d think, at least in the beginning. In this rendition, Romeo Montague (Camaron Engels) finds Juliet Capulet (Francesca Noel) through a hashtag, and their meet-cute happens via Instagram DMs. Melding live action Shakespearean dialogue with present day social media speak makes the former more palatable for non-bardolaters and captures the youthful giddiness of the pair’s romance. The characters’ digital presences become their means of characterization. (Of course Juliet has the Criterion Channel app on her phone. She’s a cinephile!)

The Montague v. Capulet war is broadcast via IG Live, but the violence weighs heavier when the characters view it from their phones. Tybalt (Diego Tinoco) brutally stabs Mercutio (Siddiq Saunderson) over FaceTime with Romeo, and the characters scroll through hordes of news posts of the rival families’ attacks. There’s room for a thoughtful discussion of how we are expected to both witness and process trauma in a virtual environment, but R#J brushes past it, largely because this new issue doesn’t exist in its source material.

The first few acts move slowly, offering time for adjustment to its format and introduction to its world, but soon R#J’s commitment to its gimmick becomes detrimental. Ken Burns-esque cuts of text messages overlaid with the audible reactions of the characters grow tired. The boldly lit live action shots and an impressive performance from Siddiq Saunderson leave you to wonder what the film could be without the confines of social media. Only so much of a relationship can be told through gifs before it begins to feel trite.

Diverting from the original, a plot twist reveals the star-crossed lovers’ live streamed deaths to be a ruse they planned in order to unite their families. While Romeo and Juliet succeeded, the film dissolves into its ‘social media is a performance’ conclusion without expanding upon it. Story alteration proved inevitable.

Some may think R#J cheapens Shakespeare’s original, but a miscommunication that dramatic is impractical when Juliet has Romeo’s phone number. Today’s tragedies have to be much more subtle.


R#J

Festival Favorites

Texas Premiere

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
South By Southwest Has a New Investor
South By Southwest Has a New Investor
With 50% ownership in SXSW LLC, P-MRC provides “lifeline”

Kevin Curtin, April 18, 2021

SXSW Film Review: <i>When Claude Got Shot</i>
SXSW Film Review: When Claude Got Shot
Documentary goes beyond the headlines of Black-on-Black crime

Shane Pfender, April 7, 2021

More by Laiken Neumann
New, Local Music We’re Listening to
New, Local Music We’re Listening to
Ladi Earth, Danilo, Aaron Stephens, and more recommended sounds

July 30, 2021

ATX Television Festival Looks on the Bright Side of the Small Screen
ATX Television Festival Looks on the Bright Side of the Small Screen
For its online season 10 the fest does what it does best, virtually

June 11, 2021

KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

SXSW 2021, SXSW Film 2021, R#J, Romeo and Juliet

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Behind the scenes at The Austin Chronicle

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle