There’s a subgenre of teen rom-coms that modernize everything from William Shakespeare to Jane Austen. On Hulu, the movie “Rosaline” flips that idea back around, giving modern rom-com tropes and dialogue to the original 16th-century setting of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” I mean, why not?
Well, for one: The play ends in tragedy! Screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (who previously teamed up on 2017′s “The Disaster Artist”) get around that by focusing not on the two star-crossed lovers of the Houses Capulet and Montague, but on Juliet’s cousin Rosaline (Kaitlyn Dever).
The outlines of the story remain the same: In fair Verona, where we lay our scene ...
Romeo (Kyle Allen, looking very Heath Ledger circa “10 Things I Hate About You,” itself a 1999 modernization of Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew”) falls head over codpiece for Juliet (Isabela Merced) at a masquerade ball.
Only days earlier, he was making hot-and-heavy balcony visits to Rosaline. But teen love, it be fickle. And the moment he got a look at Juliet, his eyeballs turned to hearts and Rosaline was but a faint memory. He ghosts her.
And so a jilted Rosaline becomes hellbent on extinguishing the flame between Romeo and Juliet (they’re a dull pair anyway!) and winning back her guy.
Complicating matters is a handsome young stranger named Dario (Sean Teale) who her father is foisting on her to marry. “Hello,” Dario says upon their first meeting. “Whatever,” is Rosaline’s reply.
You can guess how this will shake out (“Shrew’s” enemies-to-lovers template, anyone?) and as for Romeo and Juliet, the screenwriters have some ideas about an alternate ending for them as well.
Directed by Karen Maine, the movie has bouncy comedic instincts, but not enough actual humor. Or heat. The writing isn’t as clever as you’d hope, landing somewhere between fun and fun-ish. Teale’s Dario is smoldering and he has that terrific mix of unflappable courtly manners that are thrown for a loop when he’s met his match (a talent that seems tailor-made for some future season of “Bridgerton”). This pairs well with Dever’s ultra-contemporary “oh brother” energy, but there aren’t enough set pieces — or maybe the right kind of set pieces — to build enough romantic tension that has audiences hanging on every sly glance and almost-kiss.
The movie works best in bits and pieces. “You have ruined my life!” Rosaline yells at dear old Dad (Bradley Whitford) before slamming the door to her bedchamber. It’s perfect because this kind of line is usually played for hyperbole, but we’re talking about an arranged marriage here, she’s not wrong to be upset! There are a lot of jokes playing on the actual purpose of Nurse (Minnie Driver), who is no mere nursemaid but an actual medical nurse, baffled that her talents are so underserved helping Rosaline dress and bringing her breakfast in bed. I dunno, there’s only so much mileage you can get out of these lines, but Driver gives it her sardonic best.
Based on the book “When You Were Mine” by Rebecca Serle — unlike the movie, the novel is an update on “Romeo and Juliet,” set in a Southern California high school — a screen adaptation has been bouncing around for a while now. Ten years ago, Allison Williams was slated for the lead.
I don’t know if the script has gone through different permutations of development since then, but the studio (then known as 20th Century Fox, now the Disney-owned 20th Century Studios) had a lasting hit on their hands with 1998′s “Ever After: A Cinderella Story” starring Drew Barrymore. That one’s not a comedy, though it has a sturdier and richer sense of both storytelling and character building — a sweep, if you will — that’s missing in “Rosaline.”
Love is a smoke made with the fume of sighs, Shakespeare wrote. In this very play, in fact.
Memorable romantic comedies? They’re made of different but similarly elusive stuff.
2 stars (out of 4)
MPAA rating: PG-13 (for some suggestive material and brief strong language)
Running time: 1:35
How to watch: On Hulu Friday