I just caught the last half of the ’96 version of Romeo & Juliet with Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes and felt like sharing my feelings about it.
It should be mentioned that of course I love this play and always have, from the first time it crossed my path when I was 14 in freshman year English. I also love the ’68 Zeffirelli version, despite all the tights. So nobody was more excited than I when the greatest love story was modernized, with the awesome actress from My So-Called Life and the guy who shockingly managed to steal the focus from Johnny Depp in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. (That’s how I knew Claire Danes & Leonardo DiCaprio at the time. Better than referencing Growing Pains, I guess.)
There is so much to love about this movie. Harold Perrineau (maybe you know him better from Lost; I certainly don’t) was a complete scene-stealer as the mad Mercutio, especially in drag. John Leguizamo (I didn’t even realize until now that that was him; I associate him with comedy and Ice Age) made a pretty sexy Tybalt. I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about trading swords for guns, but I thought it became even darker and more exciting as a result. (That might be just me; I think handguns are mad scary.)
I did, and still do, have complaints. I love the play, and I mourned some of the cuts and changes. (Spoilers here; go no further if you’ve not seen it.) Paris gets to live and I guess that’s okay; the character didn’t seem the type to carry a gun which would mean Romeo would’ve shot him in cold blood. That would be uncomfortable. But the end of the movie didn’t have much about the reconciliation of the two families, which I always saw as the consolation for R&J’s harsh exit. Tybalt’s hateful speech to Benvolio in the beginning was chopped off (why can’t he have said “Have at thee, coward!”?) I missed Juliet’s “happy dagger” part (couldn’t Romeo have been carrying a blade on him? He was a rough kid!) and of course the famous balcony scene was turned into that silly splashing in the pool, which sort of disappointed me.
I watch this movie every time it comes on, because I still get completely caught up in the beautiful and doomed romance. Say what you will, but this version is pretty intense. Claire Danes was so fantastic that I actually like her parts the best and wished she’d been given more focus (and more of Juliet’s lines); her love and her pain felt both agonizing and real. Between the both of them though, I always cry at the end. For drama-loving me, that’s the only test to pass.