Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Tromeo And Juliet (1996) DVD Review

Tromeo & Juliet  (1996) stars Jane Jensen, Will Keenan, Valentine Miele, Maximillian Shaun, Steve Gibbons, Sean Gunn, Debbie Rochon, Flip Brown. It was written by James Gunn and Lloyd Kaufman, and directed by Lloyd Kaufman. This is a modern and loose adaptation of Romeo And Juliet, taking place in New York rather than Verona.

There is an introduction recorded for the tenth anniversary edition DVD that includes this fart joke: “Farting is such sweet sorrow.” That sort of sets the tone, but sometimes this film really does rise above that. There are some truly nice moments. And of course there is a lot of silliness.

The opening shot shows a dead animal hanging from the ceiling with this note attached to it: “Monty Q sucks.” The Chorus speaks from the street: “In fair Manhattan where we lay our scene.” While the Chorus speaks, we’re introduced to The House Of Que, which is clearly poor. There live Monty Que (Montague in the play), Benny Que (the Benvolio character), Murray Martini (the Mercutio character), and Tromeo. The House of Capulet is richer, and there live Cappy Capulet (Juliet’s father), Ingrid Capulet (Juliet’s mother), Tyrone Capulet (Tybalt), Sammy Capulet (Samson), Ness (Nurse), and of course Juliet. Right away Tromeo and Juliet seem the only sane characters in the story.

Act I

This version opens in a club. Sammy flirts with his sister Georgie, offering her some crystal meth. Tromeo and Murray are at a body piercing parlor. Tromeo talks about Rosy (Rosaline) and says he’s happy when he’s with her. So in this version she has in fact responded favorably to his advances. Tromeo comes home to see his father on the floor. Monty says, “Tromeo, Tromeo, wherefore art thou, Tromeo?” So you can add this film to the list of adaptations that have no idea what the word “wherefore” means. Meanwhile Sammy has a brawl with Murray, so quite a bit different from the play. Sammy gives him the finger rather than biting his thumb at him. That leads to Murray cutting off a couple of his fingers. Rosy is fooling around with another guy, and when Tromeo calls her, she mentions the costume party. When Capulet asks for his crossbow, his wife brings him his violin bow (a little play on the exchange in Romeo And Juliet where Capulet asks for his long sword and his wife says he should rather ask for a crutch).

On Juliet’s bed is an open copy of The Yale Shakespeare (a copy of which, coincidentally, is also open on my bed while I watch the DVD). Ness talks to Juliet about her arranged marriage to London Arbuckle (the Paris character from the play – get it? London in place of Paris), who runs a meat factory. Juliet is unhappy about the match. Ness helps Juliet forget by making out with her. Meanwhile Tromeo is looking through a stack of Shakespeare interactive discs (Et Tu Blowjob, The Merchant Of Penis, As You Lick It, and Much Ado About Humping). He selects As You Lick It. A cartoon image of Shakespeare winking appears on his computer screen.

This film actually gives us a back story on the feud. Monty and Cappy were once friends but had a falling out, so it’s not an ancient grudge. Ingrid Capulet used to be married to Monty. Capulet is really portrayed as the villain in this adaptation, beating his wife, tormenting his daughter. Detective Ernie Scalus (Prince Escalus) speaks to Monty and Cappy: “The next time there is blood spilled…” But he doesn’t threaten them with death, as in the play. When the Ques drive off with Sammy stuck in their car window, Cappy yells after Monty, “You villainous, abominable kidnaper of youth!” Then he turns to the camera and says, “Henry IV, Act II, Scene iv.” The line is indeed from The First Part Of King Henry The Fourth, and is spoken by Prince Hal. However, the line is “You villainous, abominable misleader of youth,” and is spoken teasingly of Falstaff.

It then says “Act II” on screen, but it’s actually still Act I of the play. Tromeo dresses as a cow for the Capulet costume party. He sees Rosy, who is dressed as a dominatrix, with her new boyfriend. And then he sees Juliet, and actually says Romeo’s lines from the play: “She doth teach the torches to burn bright.” He lifts the cow head to get a better look at her, and continues: “It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night.” But then he says, “Like a rich barbell in a thrasher’s ear.” He then returns to the play: “Beauty too rich for use, for Earth too dear. Did my heart love till now? Forswear it, sight! For I ne’er saw true beauty till this night.” Tromeo then sees Juliet dance with London, but he approaches her anyway and asks for the next dance. Juliet asks to see his face, so he removes the head. And the party behind them disappears, which is really nice. We get more lines from the play. Tromeo says, “If I profane with my unworthiest hand this holy shrine, the gentle sin is this, my lips two blushing pilgrims ready stand to smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.” Juliet says, “Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much.” And the scene is allowed to play out, and it’s good. Their kiss lasts longer than usual. Tyrone interrupts, fuming. And that’s how they learn of each other’s last names. But Ness tells Juliet anyway, as Tromeo and Murray escape into the night. And Juliet says, “My only love sprung from my only hate.”

Act II

The film has a title card announcing it’s “Act III,” but it’s actually Act II of the play. Ness tries to make love to Juliet, but Juliet for once pushes her away.  Juliet wakes to find Tromeo in her room. But she then gives birth to popcorn and rats, and we learn it’s a dream. (The Yale Shakespeare is on the bed next to her in the dream.) When she wakes, her father is in bed with her. He drags her by the hair and then quotes King Lear: “How much sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child.” (King Lear speaks that line in Act I Scene iv.) He then puts her in shackles, leaving her in a strange clear box in an otherwise dark room.

Meanwhile Tromeo sneaks over, picks the lock, and enters her house. Ness tells Tromeo which room Juliet is in, and also tells him she feels the same way about Juliet that he does. When Tromeo enters the room he says, “What light from yonder plexigass breaks?” He does a variation of Romeo’s speech. When he says, “See how she leans her cheek upon her hand,” we see that he means her left butt cheek. “O, that I were a glove upon that hand that I might touch that cheek.” He asks Juliet if she hates him because of his name. She responds: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” (So this film chooses the Q1 reading of “name” rather than the preferred Q2 “word.”) This scene establishes that Juliet is eighteen, not on the verge of fourteen, as in the play. Tromeo crawls inside the glass box to be with Juliet. Ness sneaks in to watch them.

Romeo and Juliet wake, and Juliet hears the music of the morning television program that her father watches (a funny substitute for the lark from Act III)). Juliet tells Tromeo she’s to be married to London on Thursday. Tromeo proposes they marry before then. London shows up, and Juliet tells him she can’t marry him, that there’s somebody else.

Tromeo goes to Father Lawrence, who is surprised that Tromeo is up before noon. He asks Father Lawrence to marry them tonight. And we do get the scene of Juliet anxiously awaiting word, though not from Ness. She’s waiting for Tromeo’s telephone call, but can’t wait and calls a sex line (so Tromeo gets a busy signal). Tromeo speaks Romeo’s line: “Let rich music’s tongue unfold the imagined happiness that both receive in either by this dear encounter.” And Juliet responds, “Oh, my true love is grown to such excess.” We do get a brief wedding scene. When Romeo then walks Juliet to her door, she says, “Parting is such sweet sorrow.” Tromeo responds, “It totally sucks.”


When Act III begins, on screen it actually says “Act IV.” Tyrone learns from London that Juliet loves someone else, and quickly surmises it’s Tromeo. Tyrone then goes to the piercing parlor and says to Murray, “We’d like to have a word with you.” Murray responds: “A word with me? Better yet, how about a word for you.” And he offers a series of insults to Tyrone. Benny stops Murray from fighting, and Tyrone says he’s just after Tromeo. Tromeo then enters and says to Tyrone, “Let’s stop.” Tyrone spits on him in response, while Murray pisses on Tyrone. Murray and Tyrone fight. But it is when Tyrone swings at Tromeo and Tromeo ducks that Murray is hit and killed. As Murray is dying, he asks for a kiss from Tromeo (so this is another production that portrays Murray as gay or bisexual). Tromeo then chases Tyrone down, rather than Tyrone returning. Tyrone’s death is completely absurd (I love the children’s reaction to his decapitation).

Act IV

Cappy is violent with Juliet and forces her to tell London she’s reconsidered marriage to him. Juliet then goes to Father Lawrence, and finds Tromeo there (instead of Ness going to the Father). Tromeo tells Juliet he has to leave town because the cops are looking for him, and asks her to come with him. She says yes, but that first she has to get London to change his mind so he won’t come after her. Father Lawrence gives Juliet the address of an herbalist who can help. It is the herbalist who gives her the vial.

And then on screen it says “Act V,” though it is still Act IV in the play. Juliet puts on the wedding dress and drinks the potion. (The Yale Shakespeare is now on top of her vanity, in front of the mirror.) It takes a moment for the potion to work. And then, oddly, Juliet says Romeo’s line, “True apothecary, thy drugs are quick.” Tyrone’s ghost shows up, as do the ghosts of Murray and Sammy. Meanwhile downstairs London arrives for the wedding. The potion doesn’t make Juliet appear dead; instead it transforms her into a sort of monster. It works to scare London off – he throws himself out the window. (The Yale Shakespeare is on the bed again.) When Juliet’s father sees her, he doesn’t buy it, and assumes it’s merely makeup.

Act V

Tromeo arrives and pulls Juliet’s father off of her. He then makes out with Juliet, and the potion’s effect wears off. Obviously at this point, the film has completely deviated from the play. Juliet then stabs her father and shoves a hair dryer in his mouth. Tromeo then hits him on the head with The Yale Shakespeare. Cappy ends up knocking them both down. But Juliet is able to electrocute him. Tromeo is cleared of all charges. But it is revealed that Tromeo and Juliet are siblings. When Juliet and Tromeo are trying to make up their minds as to what to do, Juliet quotes lines from As You Like It: “Sweet are the uses of adversity,/Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,/Wears yet a precious jewel in his head.” (Those lines are spoken by Duke Senior at the beginning of Act II Scene i.) Tromeo responds by quoting Much Ado About Nothing: “Let every eye negotiate for itself/And trust no agent.” (Claudio says that in Act II Scene i.) Juliet then says, “Fuck it, we’ve come this far.”

The narrator ends the film with these lines: “And all of our hearts free to let all base things go/As taught by Juliet and her Tromeo.” And there is a shot of William Shakespeare laughing maniacally. There is lots of silliness in the credits, and at the very end of the credits someone says, “Hey, now I don’t have to read the play.”

Bonus Features

The two-disc set includes a whole lot of bonus material, including four separate commentary tracks. Shakespeare fans might enjoy a couple of the deleted scenes. One of them is an alternate ending in which Romeo and Juliet do kill themselves. Romeo shoots himself. There’s then a knock on the door, leading Juliet to say, “There’s noise, so I’ll be brief.” She picks up a large knife and says, “Happy dagger, here is thy sheath – there rust and let me fucking die.” She then slices her own throat. In another deleted scene Benny is having sex with his girlfriend while reciting Sonnet 91 (“Some glory in their birth, some in their skill”). He says “huge birth” instead of “high birth,” and then messes a couple of lines up near the end, saying: “Richer than garments’ cost/Prouder than hawks and horses be.”

On the second disc, some fans recreated a couple of scenes. One scene is where Tromeo sneaks into Juliet’s room, and includes lines from the balcony scene.

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