Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Private Romeo (2011) DVD Review

Private Romeo (2011) stars Matt Doyle, Seth Numrich, Hale Appleman, Charlie Barnett, Adam Barrie, Chris Bresky Sean Hudock and Bobby Moreno. It was directed by Alan Brown. This film sets Romeo And Juliet in a modern-day military school, with an all-male cast.

Act I

It opens with military students reading the play in a classroom. The first line of the film is Lady Capulet’s “Marry, that ‘marry’ is the very theme I came to talk of.” The three men playing Lady Capulet, Juliet and the Nurse are standing. After Lady Capulet’s “already made mothers,” the bell rings. After the film’s title, we return to that scene, with the Servingman’s line, “Madame, the guests are come.” And the students gather their belongings and leave the classroom after “We follow thee.” Then in the bathroom, some of the guys continue, doing the Benvolio/Romeo scene. But Benvolio says, “Good morrow, Romeo” rather than “Good morrow, cousin.” Of course, Romeo’s line about loving a woman takes on a different tone. And it seems here that they truly are Romeo and Benvolio, not students rehearsing.

The students line up for an announcement “For those of you who did not qualify for the land navigation exercises and are remaining here on campus, you will be under the command of Cadet Moreno and myself. There will be no officers or faculty on campus for the next four days.” So that’s how the film gets rid of the majority of the students – those who won’t be needed for the story. Also, that’s how it sets up the four-day period, which is approximately the amount of time that passes in the play. However, it also gives us a somewhat negative view of the characters, as they’re the few who didn’t qualify for some special exercises, and so are not the best students. The remaining students continue with their classes, so we go back to the reading of the play, going to Act I Scene iv, starting with Mercutio’s line, “Take our good meaning, for our judgment sits.” As soon as he says “Queen Mab,” the bell rings and class is dismissed. But some of the guys then go into the party scene. Josh Neff, who was reading Mercutio, suddenly becomes Romeo, grabbing another guy and asking “What lady’s that which doth enrich the hand of yonder knight?” After “burn bright,” they go into the hallway, and then the boy who was reading Romeo in the class takes on Romeo’s lines again.

The next day they continue, with the Nurse’s line about her maidenhead. We get just a little of that scene. Then that night, three boys sneak down the stairs, and we are in Act I Scene iv, beginning with Romeo’s “And we mean well in going to this masque.” And this time we get the Queen Mab speech. It starts in the stairwell, but continues outside. The speech takes on a more serious, urgent tone as Mercutio gets to the lines about the soldier. Oddly, Mercutio says, “I talk of dreams,” leaving out the word “True,” which gives the line a different meaning.

The party is a poker game. Romeo, Mercutio and Benvolio do not arrived masked. Once they arrive, they then go back to the earlier dialogue from the scene, starting with Mercutio’s “Nay, gentle Romeo, we must have you dance.” It’s interesting, because when Romeo pulls Benvolio aside to ask who the lady is, are we to believe they’re now completely in the realm of the play? After all, these cadets all know each other. So his asking a question he clearly knows the answer to gives a sense that they’re just playing at this, that they’re not living it. (A clue, however, can be found in this closing credit: “inspired by Joe Calarco’s ‘Shakespeare’s R & J’” – for in that play the characters begin by reading the parts and then partway through really become them, or at least fully commit to them.) The boy he indicates as Juliet is alone, so the line “enrich the hand of yonder knight” doesn’t really make sense. At the poker table, Tybalt indicates Romeo to Capulet, while Romeo is off talking with Juliet. Then when we go to Romeo and Juliet, they speak some lines not from the play before going into “If I profane with my unworthiest hand.” Romeo goes to kiss Juliet’s neck after “with a tender kiss,” but Juliet backs off, saying “Hey.” It’s nice, because then Romeo really is trying to convince Juliet to let him kiss her with his next several lines. And they do kiss. The handheld camera moves a bit too much in this scene. It should be still and let the actors do their thing. Of course, everyone at the poker table is able to watch this, giving the scene a very different feel. The kiss is interrupted, and then Benvolio urges Romeo to leave.

Act II

The conjuring of Romeo is done in a relatively dark hall (so we can’t really see Mercutio’s face for most of it). We do see Romeo crouching in the shadows. Though they’re in a hallway, Benvolio still says “trees.” Light comes from one of the rooms, leading to Romeo’s “Soft, what light.” Romeo sneaks into the classroom. Juliet has her back to Romeo and begins the “Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo” speech. They use the Q2 reading, “by any other word.” Though the scene is done in a classroom, Juliet still says the line about the orchard walls. Several lines are cut. After Juliet’s “So thou wilt woo,” it goes right to Romeo’s “If my heart’s dear love,” losing all of the stuff about swearing by the moon. Again, the camera is unable to remain still, which is annoying. The Nurse calls, “Juliet” from the classroom door. Because they’re in a classroom, not separated, they’re able to kiss. Juliet has the “parting is such sweet sorrow” line.

Then we leave the play for a few minutes, with a boy tied up, and then the company being reprimanded in the morning.

Then we go to the Friar scene, which happens in a hallway. Romeo has to say “Good morrow, Friar Lawrence” twice. All the lines about Rosaline are cut.

The Benvolio/Mercutio scene is done in the weight room. Romeo enters almost immediately so cut are all the lines about Tybalt. (One thing that doesn’t quite work in this version is the absence of two clear houses. There is no ancient grudge.) Nurse enters, and knows who Romeo is, so almost immediately says, “I desire some confidence with you.” Mercutio repeats “Lady” to the Nurse, as if teasing the male character, acknowledging that he’s really a man. It’s interesting, because of course in Shakespeare’s time all the parts were played by men, so it’s sort of a meta-theatrical joke, though here all the men are dressed as men, though still addressed as “Lady” and “Juliet” and so on. Peter is cut from this scene. And then Nurse and Romeo and interrupted by two other soldiers who call them by their proper names, causing Romeo and Nurse to stand at attention. So it’s like they’re living in two worlds at once. The cadets are told to do forty pushups.

It’s interesting, because the intrusion of this reality is what causes Nurse to be late. So when we cut to Juliet, anxiously awaiting the Nurse’s return, we know the reason for her tardiness. And the reason is the intrusion of the real world on the world of the play. And we also know why the Nurse is tired and out of breath. A very interesting way of doing it. The “Where is your mother” line seems to have no reason or cause in this version, and so the humor of it is lost.

Then oddly we have a brief classroom scene, where they are once again reading from Act I Scene iii of the play, with the Nurse’s speech about Juliet’s age. This is a flashback, as the Nurse remembers. The film then goes to the Friar/Romeo scene.


The first scene takes place on an indoor basketball court, and begins with Mercutio’s “Thou art like one of one these fellows.” But since the entire opening brawl is cut, we haven’t learned of Benvolio’s peaceful nature, so the meaning of these lines is not as clear. Then two men come in, and we go back to Benvolio’s opening lines of the scene, and those lead to Mercutio’s “By my heel, I care not.” Tybalt takes the basketball, shoots a basket, then says, “Gentlemen, a word with one of you.” Though no one else is in the gym, Benvolio still says “Here all men’s eyes gaze on us.” On Tybalt’s “turn and draw” he raises his fists; he doesn’t pull out a sword. But Romeo still says “put thy rapier up.” Tybalt punches Mercutio. “A plague on both your houses” doesn’t quite work, because what houses is he referring to? Benvolio leaves Mercutio and goes to Romeo. He says, “Romeo,” but does not say that Mercutio is dead. But Romeo still says his response: “This day’s black fate on moe days doth depend.” Tybalt returns, and Romeo says the line about Mercutio’s soul being a little bit above their heads, meaning that he’s dead. From a punch? Tybalt and Romeo have a fist fight. Romeo knocks Tybalt down, and Benvolio urges him to go. But Tybalt is simply in pain, not dead.

When the Prince asks “Where are the vile beginners of this fray,” there is a red light flashing as if a police car is nearby, though they’re inside the gym. When Benvolio says, “that slew your kinsmen, brave Mercutio,” he glances over at Mercutio, who is not dead, but holding his head in pain. Benvolio speaks Montague’s lines in this scene.

The first few lines of Juliet’s speech are cut. Nurse says, “he’s dead,” regarding Tybalt. Most of that scene is cut, including the great “cousin”/“husband” lines.

In the Friar scene, the Nurse says that Juliet cries out Romeo’s name, but doesn’t mention that she cries Tybalt as well. And that’s a problem with this adaptation. There seems to be no relation between Juliet and Tybalt. The ring the Nurse gives Romeo from Juliet is a rubber bracelet.

We then go to the morning with Romeo and Juliet in bed. There is no lark sound. Oddly, Juliet’s lines when she urges Romeo to go are cut. So it seems she’s okay with Romeo dying. It’s the Nurse’s “Madam” which gets Romeo out of bed. Romeo climbs out the window.

Then it cuts to a classroom scene, where Paris asks Capulet about his suit, and again it’s a memory, this time of Juliet’s. We then go back to Juliet in her chamber, with Lady Capulet entering, and now suddenly Paris is mentioned. Juliet says “it shall be Romeo,” but doesn’t add “whom you know I hate.” Juliet says “on my knees” but doesn’t get on her knees.

Act IV

We leave the play for a moment, and go to one of the cadets in charge on the phone. He says, “He’s fine.” Then, “He was treated in the emergency room.” So he’s likely talking about Tybalt.

The Friar/Juliet scene begins with Juliet’s line “Come weep with me.” The film goes straight from that scene to Juliet taking the potion. Juliet drinks the potion after the “holy man” line. Juliet then continues: “How if, when I am laid into the tomb.” Juliet does have the line about her cousin’s ghost. After “I drink to thee,” Juliet drinks more.

Act V

Benvolio goes to Romeo to tell him of Juliet’s death. Romeo’s first speech of this act is cut. Romeo immediately runs to Juliet’s body. The Apothecary and Paris are cut. The scene with the two friars is likewise cut. So Romeo picks up the canteen that Juliet used and says, “Here’s to my love.” Of course, that means he’s not really killing himself. So most of his great speech is cut. He lies with Juliet.

We have a bit with Friar and Benvolio. Friar goes into the room, after Benvolio takes off (in place of Balthasar). Juliet wakes when Friar arrives. Juliet thinks Romeo is dead. The “cup closed” line is cut. Juliet kisses Romeo, and Romeo wakes. So this is quite different from the play. And thus the rest of the play is cut. Instead, there is a song at the end.

Time: 98 minutes

Special Features

The DVD includes several special features, including a commentary track by director Alan Brown and cast member Seth Numrich. The director talks about how it's the Queen Mab speech which propels the film into the Romeo And Juliet world. They talk about how Friar Lawrence is the campus drug dealer with a key to the chemistry lab. Approximately forty-seven minutes into the film, Seth leaves and cast member Matt Doyle takes over. They do talk about the odd doubling toward the end, with Capulet and Lady Capulet. They also talk about the troubles with cutting Paris as a character but still mentioning him. And they talk about the song at the end.

There are some deleted scenes, most of which are not related to the play and are more about how Moreno acts while left in charge. But one scene starts with two students reading the play in their room. We hear one say "Unlucky," and then the other reads, "Whose unlucky piteous overthrows doth with their," before Cadet Moreno interrupts them. The line is from the Chorus' opening speech: "Whose misadventured piteous overthrows/Doth with their death bury their parents' strife."

There is a behind-the-scenes featurette, with footage from the last day of shooting and some interviews with cast and crew, as well as some behind-the-scenes web clips.

The film's trailer says, "In McKinley Military Academy, where we lay our scene." And then: "From ancient grudge breaks to new mutiny."

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