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'Rosaline' Review: Rewriting Romance
Kaitlyn Dever and Isabella Merced star in a sparkling 'Romeo and Juliet' comedy.
Now Streaming: Kaitlyn Dever makes everything around her sparkle in Rosaline, a new comedy from the ace writing team of Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (500 Days of Summer, The Spectacular Now).
As their credits demonstrate, Neustadter and Weber are experienced in the adaptation of books, as in The Fault in Our Stars, Paper Towns, and The Disaster Artist, even if the source material is not particularly good. First published in 2012, When You Were Mine by Rebecca Serle retells Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet from the perspective of Juliet's former best friend. In Serle's version, Juliet was wildly unstable and chased after Rob, the novel's version of Romeo.
Neustadter and Weber keep the idea but change things up for the screen version. Rosaline is the undoubted star of the story here; as the tale begins, she is deeply in love with Romeo (Kyle Allen), a good-looking lad who is a bit of a clod. Still, Rosaline loves him, even though he belongs to a family that has been in a dispute with her own for some time.
Known for being difficult, and resisting every unsuitable suitor put forward to her by her father, Adrian Capulet (Bradley Whitford), Rosaline has kept her romance with Romeo a secret, though she reveals it to Dario (Sean Teale) when the handsome young fellow, freshly back from war, is put forward as a possible mate. The same everning that Rosaline is dutifully meeting Dario on that fateful date, however, Rosaline's younger cousin Juliet (Isabela Merced) has returned from finishing school and met Romeo at a large gathering, signaling the beginning of a classic romance.
But not if Rosaline can help it. As adroitly brought to life by Kaitlyn Dever, Rosaline is constantly kicking against the patriarchal, sexist society in which she lives, while simultaneously hewing to expectations of that same society. Thus, she claims to be deeply in love with Romeo, but it's love based purely on comparison: yes, he's a big oaf, but he's younger and less of an oaf that her other past suitors.
Neustadter and Weber also construct Juliet as a young woman who is quite a bit sharper than Rosaline realizes at first. Again, Rosaline has drawn quick assumptions about someone without getting to know them, thus hewing to societal expectations and not being as much of a rebel as she imagines herself to be. Juliet may be younger than Rosaline, but in Isabela Merced's portrayal, she's also not as naively romantic. Oh, she's foolish at times, yet it's also clear that she has much potential to grow, and Merced gracefully expands upon this idea, while not forgetting that Juliet is still quite young.
Directed by Karen Maine, Rosaline is indubitably smart, charming, and silly. It's also very funny. I should point out, though, that it is clearly intended for a YA audience, and thus incorporates salty language, including at least one f-word, which kinda surprised me. It's the kind of thing that mainstream Hollywood films have done for years to ensure a PG-13 rating, rather than a PG rating. But does that even matter in the age of streaming? Nonetheless, parents and adult guardians, beware. [Hulu in the U.S.; Disney Plus in all other countries.]