I know it’s pointless to call a movie “unnecessary.” Strictly speaking, all movies (and other works of art) are “unnecessary” in the sense that we don’t need them to survive. But egads, the new version of “Romeo & Juliet” sure is unnecessary. Never mind the perfectly good cinematic interpretations that are already out there; never mind that there’s at least one high school within a 100-mile radius of your home performing the play right now; never mind the abundant familiarity the average moviegoer already has with this story. Why should anyone go see this retelling when there are so many other things vying for our leisure time? Justify yourself, movie!
Adapted, trimmed, and altered by Julian Fellowes (“Downton Abbey”) and directed by Carlo Carlei, this production is faithful in spirit to Shakespeare’s romantic tragedy. It’s set in the right time period, with appropriate costumes and manners, and it has a suitably classical-sounding musical score — a lush, beautiful one, actually — by Abel Korzeniowski. Romeo (Douglas Booth) is almost implausibly handsome, Juliet (Hailee Steinfeld, from “True Grit”) is fair of face and could pass for 14, which is how old Shakespeare wrote her to be. But they don’t have any chemistry together, underscoring what is always tricky about this play: the star-cross’d lovers only have a few minutes’ stage time in which to convince us they’re madly in love. Booth and Steinfeld don’t pull it off.
For me, the greatest potential in a Shakespearean production is in the acting. Good performances by capable actors can breathe new life into familiar lines and make plays you’ve seen a hundred times feel fresh. Alas, the only person doing that level of work here is Paul Giamatti as Friar Laurence, his eyes agleam and his delivery confident. No one in the cast is bad, per se (the roster also includes Damian Lewis, Laura Morante, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Natascha McElhone, Stellan Skarsgard, Lesley Manville, and Ed Westwick), but only Giamatti seems like he’d be at home onstage at the Globe.
C (1 hr., 58 min.; )