Rosaline Doesn’t Capture Shakespeare’s Spirit

(Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2022 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.)

Hollywood has a long history of adapting William Shakespeare plays to fit into the genre of teen comedies. 10 Things I Hate About You borrows its plot from The Taming of the Shrew, She’s the Man is a fantastic adaptation of Twelfth Night, and Warm Bodies, Valley Girl, and now Rosaline take on Shakespeare’s most famous work, Romeo and Juliet.

Rosaline is the story of Romeo and Juliet, but centers its narrative on Romeo’s (Kyle Allen) oft-forgotten ex, Rosaline (Kaitlyn Dever). The two had been in a similar whirlwind romance days before his infamous run-in with Rosaline’s cousin, Juliet (Isabela Merced). Angered by how quickly Romeo dropped her for the younger and prettier Juliet, Rosaline hatches a plan to win back her ex.

Rosaline and Dario stand in confusion
(Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2022 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.)

The film’s trailer gives away its best jokes, and what remains is a series of forced comedic moments. Rosaline and a potential suitor, Dario (Sean Teale), are on a date set up by her father. They’re on a small boat on a lake and Rosaline is due to meet Romeo at the masquerade ball, so she’s impatient. When Rosaline admits to Dario that she has a boyfriend, he says her father never mentioned that and begins to turn the boat around. Suddenly, the bright sky turns dark and it begins to rain on the two of them. Nothing about the scene feels natural – from the performances to the events to the delivery of the dialogue.

This is not to say that Dever is the wrong choice to lead a comedic movie. Her timing is impeccable, but the lines she’s delivering leave a lot to be desired. Her performance in Booksmart proves how enthralling she can be when the script matches her style of comedy, but Rosaline seems as if it was written to find the path of least resistance in terms of jokes. None of the comedic moments feel inherently tied to the story itself, but are simply circumstances that could be funny in another time, place, or movie.

Rosaline and Juliet enter a dive bar
(Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2022 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.)

In many ways, Rosaline is the oldest story in the books. Not because of the film’s source material, but in its lack of imagination. How many times will the writers return to the already dry well of having Rosaline’s hair get stuck in Juliet’s earring? The jokes about how little agency women had in this time period wear thin pretty quickly, and they aren’t anything the audience hasn’t heard before. It’s as if the jokes were borrowed from another teen movie and only slightly modified to fit the world of Rosaline.

The pacing and editing of Rosaline never feel fluid. The film will jump from a mellow moment of playing croquet to Juliet and Rosaline at a rowdy dive bar. A cut like this works in movies with that style of editing, but with Rosaline, there’s no cohesive structure for the audience to follow in terms of film style. It’s one thing for a period piece film to feel ultra-modernized and utilize contemporary music and film techniques, but these aspects must also feel right for the tone of the film itself. 

Rosaline tries to throw Juliet off the balcony
(Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2022 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.)

Persuasion (2022) comes to mind when thinking about the missed potential of Rosaline. While Persuasion (2022) is not an adaptation of a Shakespearean work, the film has roots in the works of another author with a fair share of teen adaptations: Jane Austen. Both Austen and Shakespeare have endured through the centuries because of their sharp-witted criticism of the present-day society they were writing in. As much as we’d like to believe humanity has grown in the years since, there are some truths that will prove to be universal until the very end. When contemporary adaptations lean into the timelessness of these works, they’re able to create something that feels fresh, but actually relates to a time long ago.

As much as Rosaline wants to talk about the forgotten ex from the story of the most famous star-crossed lovers, the film does very little to differentiate itself from teen Shakespearean adaptations of years past. It follows the familiar beats of teen comedies where hijinks give way to character development and Rosalines’ own love story, but it’s not enough to stand on its own. Given the comedic force Dever was in Booksmart, her return to the comedy genre after a string of dramatic roles is disappointing, but not for lack of potential.

Written by Tina Kakadelis

News Editor for Film Obsessive. Movie and pop culture writer. Seen a lot of movies, got a lot of opinions. Let's get Carey Mulligan her Oscar.

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