If I accomplish nothing else here, I hope I can drive home the fact that there’s no damn balcony. I gotta admit, Romeo and Juliet strikes a cynical nerve for this writer. It’s not the romance. On the contrary, I see myself as a romantic soul. Heck, even though I’ve seen it dozens of times, I still tear up a little at the end of City Lights (when she looks out the window and sees him for the very first time and he’s embarrassed but can’t bring himself to run away because she’s so beautiful and she brings him the flower and OMG THE FEELS). If you’re looking for Shakespearean romance, get thee to the comedies. Maybe I get crotchety about Romeo and Juliet because I’m suppressing some long-dormant adolescent rage over the hatchet editing job done to the Zefferelli film we watched in ninth grade to protect us all from the corruptible influence of Leonard Whiting’s lily-white bum (even though at the time we were all convinced that the offending scene contained boobies). Maybe it has to do with people going “Aw, how sweet” over a story about a couple of fourteen-year olds who elope after their first date then commit suicide. If I’m honest, it has everything to do with the way our pop culture has maligned the central message of the play. This is a cautionary tale. It’s a story of two families at war with each other. There’s no reason given. They just don’t like each other. It’s stupid and childish and inexplicable, but it’s the status quo, so everyone maintains the violent trajectory like mindless minions. It’s always been that way, so there’s no reason to change anything. When the occasional skirmish breaks out and someone dies, it’s just sort of expected. No big shakes, just so long as the losses remain equal on both sides. It’s the story of a bunch of contemptibly ignorant people perpetuating a never-ending conflict. It’s like watching American politics, when you get down to it. No one wins. Everyone loses, and the casualties are rarely the ones waging the battles. Often, it’s the most innocent that are lost. And that’s the story Shakespeare is telling us. Sure, the language can be lovely at times, but is much more often bawdy. The romance between the impulsive Romeo and his flavor of the week Juliet is sweet and charming in that fumbling, illicit way that middle school romance can be. But if you want to regard this play as a precedent-setter for your romantic expectations, you’d probably do better at Pornhub. At least there, you won’t have to worry about the school tech club nerds splicing out the naughty bits. Over and over and over throughout the play, Romeo faces decisions and never fails to take the most excruciatingly dunderheaded path. Yeah, the girl he saw at the party was pretty, but did he need to jump over the wall and hang out outside her bedroom window (not a balcony) like a creepy prowling stalker guy? And he offers to marry her after one conversation? Not only that, but he actually follows through and sets the whole thing up with a minister! It’s one thing to say “of course I’ll marry you” to the girl you’re trying to get with, but it’s a whole new level of baller that goes and sets a date with the local friar. Then the next day he kills his whatever-in-law because he walked into that guy killing his buddy. And from there, it goes downhill faster than Shawn White on the half-pipe, only without the artistry. Juliet should probably be thankful for hemlock or cyanide or laundry detergent pods or whatever they ended up ingesting, because after a couple of months of Romeo’s flaky shit, she would have been seriously questioning her decision-making skills and beginning a long, slow life of regret. Oh, and lest I forget to reiterate, Shakespeare never says anything about a damn balcony. It’s a window. Why does that irk me? Of course, Romeo and Juliet has a vast and celebrated cinematic history. Among the first was a silent short from 1908. In 1916, two different feature-length versions were released in the same week. Allegedly, some interstudio espionage was involved between the two productions. That would make for an interesting column someday, don’t you think…? The 1936 George Cukor adaptation starred John Barrymore and Basil Rathbone as Mercutio and Tybalt, which received a resounding “meh” from the critics of the time, despite earning a couple of Oscar noms. Then we flash-forward past a ton of TV productions and filmed theatrical productions to find 1961’s modernized musical West Side Story, which sets the tale of the star-crossed couple against a singing-and-dancing urban gang war. Perhaps owing to its understanding of the embattled nature of the source material, this adaptation is still effective, and continues to be staged and is even rumored to be returning to the screen in the not-so-distant future. Franco Zefferelli’s lavish traditional film version hit the screen in 1968, leaning hard into the romance, and even promoted itself as “the greatest love story of all time.” Ack. To his credit, Zefferelli attempted to cast his titular lovers using actual teenagers, which was surprisingly revolutionary at the time. But then, we’d seen Olivier play Hamlet when he was in his forties (and nearly twice the age of that film’s Gertrude), and Orson freaking Welles play Othello, so the verisimilitude-in-casting bar for Shakespeare adaptation had been set pretty low. This version was even popular enough to spawn a porn parody The Secret Sex Lives of Romeo and Juliet the following year. Just like you can know you’ve made it as a recording artist if Weird Al parodies one of your songs, you can measure a film’s commercial success by its porn parody status. Baz Luhrmann gave us his flashy update in 1996, transporting the story and much of the original script to the fictional Verona Beach in southern California. And these are just the major productions. As of this writing, Romeo and Juliet has been put on the screen a whopping thirty times, and that’s only counting the traditional adaptations. When you factor in the oddballs (i.e. Tromeo and Juliet, Gnomeo and Juliet, et al), that number more than doubles. Not all of them necessarily count as adaptations, though. Warm Bodies (2013) I’m going to level with you: I am hesitant to include Warm Bodies in this column. I hesitate because it is frankly misleading to tout this movie as having anything much to do with Romeo and Juliet. Sure, it has a few parallels, but they’re really just cutesy nods to the tragic tale of those crazy Montague and Capulet kids. The two principles in Warm Bodies are named R and Julie. Julie’s trusted confidante Nora is the Nurse’s stand-in. R’s bestie M is a truncated namesake to Romeo’s brother-from-another-mother Mercutio. Heck, there’s even a balcony scene (damn it all!). And I suppose if I want to stretch, the scene where Julie encourages R by reminding him that his self-doubts are just a sign of his humanity because humans always “try to be better” could be compared to Juliet’s “Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much,/Which mannerly devotion shows in this:/For saints have hands that pilgrims’ hands to touch,/And palm to palm is holy palmers’ kiss.,” but (as I said) that seems like a stretch. This is not an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet any more than The Empire Strikes Back was. It is certain that the princess of Alderaan and that scruffy-looking nerf-herder were as star-crossed as Romeo and Juliet, but that doesn’t necessarily make them Romeo and Juliet. That Vampire Slayer and her Vampire lover(s)? Also not Romeo and Juliet. A conspiracy-believing, UFO-chasing FBI profiler and a medically-trained forensic scientist? Nope. Not even Aristotle could stretch a syllogism that far. Just because the term “star-crossed lovers” was originally coined by Shakespeare in the prologue of Romeo and Juliet doesn’t give him proprietary ownership of the concept. I see Warm Bodies as being more of a respectful (if winking) homage to Shakespeare than anything else. Warm Bodies was definitely aimed a particular target audience, which became apparent when the disc’s three pre-menu trailers booted up. The first was Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 2 (and I said, “uh-oh”), followed by The Hunger Games (then I said “Hmm… tell me more…”) and The Perks of Being a Wallflower (I said, “oh, OK”). Insofar as I am willing to admit that I respect and appreciate two thirds of those movies, I was willing to dismiss the vapidity of the standout to give this movie an unbiased shake. And I’m glad I did. It’s a zombie love story wherein a living girl named Julie falls in love with a corpse named R. As unlikely as it would seem, the end product is sweet and pretty funny and surprisingly watchable. As overworked as the zombie genre has become, this movie held my attention better than any of the last three or four seasons of The Walking Dead. Those who approach this film looking for a horror movie are going to be just as disappointed as those who are settling in for a rom-com. It borrows elements of both and concocts something altogether idiosyncratic and warm. The movie was written and directed by Jonathon Levine, adapted from a novel by Isaac Marion (his first). Levine’s credits prior to this project included his feature debut The Wackness, which he also wrote and directed and is worth checking out. In his hands, the development of R and Julie’s relationship is like a rock ballad. Not a stupid one like that Meat Loaf tune where he won’t do “that” (whatever the hell “that” is), but more like “Purple Rain” (the longer album version), “Jungleland” or “Wish You Were Here.” It’s a steady rhythm that does everything it can to sweep you up into it. This rhythm is aided greatly by the performance of its male lead Nicholas Hoult. After seeing this, you’ll likely think his talents are being squandered in the X-Men movies, where he is the current iteration of Hank McCoy. As R, Hoult never misses a shambling step in the transformation from grunting zombie to defiant hero. His costar Teresa Palmer holds the scenes together admirably with the lion’s share of the dialogue, and their chemistry together keeps the story honest. But Hoult’s performance overshadows all of that and is the tour-de-force of this film. And that’s really saying something, considering this is a movie which includes John freakin’ Malkovich in the cast as Julie’s father. And as long as we’re talking about the cast, whoever had the idea to cast Rob Corddry as the best buddy in a teen romance movie should either be considered a genius or committed to some sort of institution. Corddry’s comedy chops shine through occasionally, but he spends more time infusing an unlikely humanity into his undead friendship with R. This story’s leap from novel to screen is largely successful. While the first sixty minutes remains pretty slavish to the source material, the last half hour digresses widely from the novel, but in a way that works visually and might even tie this tale together with more of an impact. And while I may have been occasionally wistful for the kookiness of book version R’s Sinatra obsession, cinematic R’s eclectic vinyl collection made for a much better soundtrack. Much like the first half of Marion’s novel, Levine’s script takes the time to really develop the relationship between its two leads before his direction sends it careening off into a somewhat more bombastic yet satisfyingly cinematic finale. The changes stick to the basic messaging of Marion’s book, but streamline it for the screen. If anything, Levine’s finale hearkens more to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet than the book, with the inclusion of a (religiously symbolic) double-suicide between the young forbidden lovers that fuels an eventual truce between Julie’s and R’s people. That truce is the reason I’m including Warm Bodies in this overview. It’s all too common to dismiss Romeo and Juliet as a story of ooey gooey pie-eyed young love. It’s not. It’s Shakespeare’s cautionary tale of how conflict can so easily claim innocent casualties. And that’s the message this movie leans toward in the end. It may not quite get all the way to that point, but it certainly wants to go in that direction. If you need an encapsulated review, I can say confidently that it is a far better love story than Twilight and a better (though not nearly as unintentionally funny) teenage zombie movie than 1959’s Teenage Zombies. See larger image Warm Bodies [Blu-ray + Digital] A funny new twist on a classic love story, WARM BODIES is a poignant tale about the power of human connection. After a zombie epidemic, R (a highly unusual zombie) encounters Julie (a human survivor), and rescues her from a zombie attack. Julie sees that R is different from the other zombies, and as the two form a special relationship in their struggle for survival, R becomes increasingly more human — setting off an exciting, romantic, and often comical chain of events that begins to transform the other zombies and maybe even the whole lifeless world. 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