In William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet , Romeo Montague is played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Juliet Capulet is played by Claire Danes. This title was probably chosen because it acknowledges the original play. It takes place in Verona Beach, California, in the 1990's. This romantic drama is based on Shakespeare's tragic novel Romeo and Juliet, which takes place in Verona, Italy, in the 1500's.
The movie begins with a fight at the gas station between two rival families- the Capulets and the Montagues. Romeo, who is heart-broken over another girl, attends the Capulet's costume party and meets Juliet, whom he immediately falls in love with. Romeo is very emotional and dramatic, and acts like a typical teenage boy; he makes decisions without weighing the consequences and doesn't value or recognize true love. Juliet is naive and obedient in the beginning of the play, but at the end she changes into an independent person and picks up some of Romeo's bad traits. After the party, the couple proclaims their love for each other and agrees to get married the next day. After their quick wedding, an unfortunate turn of events leads to Romeo being banished and Juliet (forcefully) being betrothed to Paris. After Romeo leaves, Juliet and Friar Lawrence come up with a scheme that will allow Juliet and Romeo to live as husband and wife. But a letter explaining the plan is unable to be delivered, and, being the irrational and absurd teenagers they really are, they bring their own demise upon themselves at the very end of the film.
One aspect of the movie that I did like was the accuracy with which the actors portray the characters. The director gets the right idea with the the character's personalities, which he shows metaphorically at the Capulets' costume party. The Capulets are dressed up as a king and queen, which symbolizes their attitude towards their daughter- they try to command her to behave a certain way, but in the end it only alienates them from her (perhaps a lesson all parents could learn?). Juliet and Romeo wear costumes that portray their feelings toward one another. Romeo is Juliet's 'knight in shining armor,' meaning that he's her hero and true love. She dresses up as an angel, which Romeo makes many references of through out the play and film. Tybalt, for obvious reasons is a devil, and Mercutio, the comical character, cross dresses as some sort of diva... This last character gave me some trouble, but after much thought, I have concluded that Paris is an astronaut because to Juliet, he may as well be on the moon, for all she cares. Haha! Most of the parts were played very well and almost exactly how I imagined them. So the character/actors were one thing that I enjoyed... And possibly the only thing.
*Spoiler Alert* What was most changed about the movie was the end! It was almost even more irritating than the original... I didn't think that was possible. First, instead of killing Paris outside of Juliet's tomb, Romeo just walks in. Which means that in the movie Paris gets to live. Killing Paris was important to the plot because it further showed how crazy Romeo is after losing his soul mate only a day after marrying her. But then it gets worse. Romeo drinks the poison, just as Shakespeare plans, but then no later that a second after the bottle leaves his lips, Juliet caresses his face and the lovers share their last moment realizing that their scheme to be together failed. She literally watches him kill himself and die. After deciding that she can't live without her beloved Romeo, Juliet kills herself, and lies, dead, with her husband. That part doesn't change, but the fact that they saw each other before they died without being able to say any last words to each other (since Romeo is too busy having convulsions to speak at the moment) is really annoying. But if that was the intention- to upset the viewers with this bitter twist on a tragic classic, then good job, Baz Luhrmann. Good job.
At the end of the movie, my overall reaction was disappointment. I was expecting it to be a dramatic tear-jerker type of film, and instead ended up with more of an action type of movie. Compared to the book, not as much of the emotion was conveyed to the audience, to my dismay. However, if I hadn't read the book, I probably wouldn't mind the movie and would have enjoyed it much more. Luhrmann obviously wanted to remake this classic as a more approachable, modern, and different film to give that element of surprise to both the well versed and the inexperienced viewers. I simply did not appreciate that take on the classic. I would rather read the novel or see the 1968 version. If you were looking for a good classic-book-to-movie film, I recommend Jane Eyre or Gone with the Wind. They are similar to Romeo and Juliet because they tell about young love, tragedy, and heart broken lovers. Both of these romance novels have been accurately transformed into great movies that will not disappoint you! But don't waste your time on this one- unless you're watching it to see the gorgeous Leonardo DiCaprio. In that case it is not a waste.