starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes
#####shakespeare for Middle-Schoolers
I was a gawky, four-eyed twelve-year old when this movie was released in 1996. I was negotiating, for the first time, the treacherous battlefield of middle school hallways: the gossip, the insecurity, and the foreign sensations of first infatuations. It was a perfect time for me to see this movie.
Nearly ten years have elapsed but I vividly recall what a relief it was to go to the local Cineplex (not the art house theater) and watch a Shakespeare movie on a big screen surrounded by kids roughly my age, middle and high school students, as opposed to the obligatory middle-aged crowd. I already loved Shakespeare thanks to Kenneth Branagh—the seven year old version of me thrilled to his Henry V’s St. Crispin’s Day speech while not understanding every other word—and yet, woe is me, few of my pimply contemporaries shared this peculiar passion for the 400 hundred year old Bard.
I also remember the trailers for this movie. Promos edited to machine gunfire flashed rat-a-tat shots of gang gunplay, adolescent romance, bright colors, and explosions, all backed by a pounding, bass-heavy soundtrack. By the end, breathless, my 12 year old equivalent was amazed and delighted to hear the Movie Trailer Voice, gravelly and intense, intone (as only the Movie Trailer Voice can intone) “William Shakespeare’s…Romeo and Juliet.” There it was. “William Shakespeare.” Suddenly, the old Bard seemed cool. Not just to me, but to all my classmates too.
The theater was packed when I went. I recognized some kids from my school. The median age was probably 16. The lights dimmed. The screen flickered. The movie started. And off we went.
Here was a world we recognized, a garish world of guns, trendy fashions, and solipsistic teenagers scribbling poetry in their notebook. The audience snickered with recognition at Romeo’s pleading to Juliet, “Wilst thou leave me so unsatisfied?” And Juliet’s retort, “What satisfaction canst thou have tonight?” Gunplay and drug use and raging hormones. Well meaning adults and over-possessive parents. All aided and abetted by a hip soundtrack and attractive young stars-in-the-making, Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes.