Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
December 1, 2022

Rosaline: A comedic commentary on Romeo and Juliet

By ALICIA GUEVARA | October 25, 2022

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GABBOT / CC BY-SA 2.0

Kaitlyn Dever stars in Hulu’s inventive comedy Rosaline.

I have never understood the hype surrounding Shakespeare’s infamous play, Romeo and Juliet. Personally, I’ve always found it to be a long-winded, pompous display of iambic pentameter spouted by two-dimensional and horrendously stupid protagonists. I am convinced that if some author today, not in 1597, tried to publish this same play, nothing would come of it. It would never be put to print or taken to the stage.

Maybe it’s just me, but I have never found the idea of hormonal 13 and 16-year-olds sneaking around to be particularly romantic. They were undeniably the original starstruck lovers, tragically separated by their family’s mutual hatred of each other, but because of their romance, pretty much everyone dies, which is a serious mood killer. Literally.

Given my distaste, I was therefore less than enthusiastic when I heard Hulu would be releasing Rosaline on Oct. 14 as a twist on the bard’s crowning glory. Having already sat through 2021’s West Side Story, 1996’s William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet and, regrettably, 2011’s animated Gnomeo and Juliet, it was unclear to me why the world needed yet another rendition.

Yet something made me want to give this film a try. Maybe it was Kaitlyn Dever’s role as the titular Rosaline that drew me in, her face familiar from Olivia Wilde’s 2019 directorial debut Booksmart. Maybe it was my latest obsession with period romantic comedies thanks to Netflix’s 2020 series Bridgerton.

In any case, it was enough for me to set aside my trauma from high school English classes and give the film a view, and once I did, I found myself pleasantly surprised. The film centers around Rosaline, Romeo’s original muse and love interest in the opening act of Shakespeare’s play before Juliet is introduced and her bitter, enraged reaction to Romeo (Kyle Allen) and Juliet’s (Isabela Merced) whirlwind romance.

The film, told from Rosaline’s perspective and voice, is witty, satirical and sarcastic, which I loved. Within the first couple minutes of the film, Rosaline is established as a more grounded character for viewers to latch onto as she interrupts Romeo’s couplet monologue to ask “why [he’s] talking like that.” Lines like these bring a sense of self-awareness to the film which is refreshing and keeps it from taking itself too seriously.

Another notable aspect of this film is its humor, which is an enjoyable contrast to the tragedy in Shakespeare’s original play. It capitalizes on the clash between dramatic impulsivity and more grounded realism to create this comedy, which was really effective. Some of the film’s shining comical moments emanate from Rosaline’s nurse (Minnie Driver) and her deadpan wit.

However, my favorite part of the film was its portrayal of romance. To me, this was the ultimate test for this film because Shakespeare’s take, in his original play, was so ridiculous. The idea of seeing someone, instantly falling in love and marrying them always bothered me especially since it is so romanticized.

Yet, this film addresses this problematic arc by contrasting two romances: the expected romance between Romeo and Juliet and the romance between Rosaline and a new character Dario (Sean Teale). Yes, we are given Romeo and Juliet’s impulsive, problematic relationship, complete with sneaky balcony hook-ups and elopement, but we are also shown an alternative path to romance.

I should clarify that neither romance is particularly realistic. This film is, at its heart, a romantic comedy, so this is an expected convention of the genre. However, Rosaline and Dario do spend the film getting to know each other, and their growth from flirty bickering to friendship is adorable. As Rosaline and Dario slowly find pieces in each other that they like, Romeo and Juliet sprint through their romance like their lives depend on it.

This only makes Rosaline’s ending that much more satisfying. Without giving too much away, we are given a hopeful beginning to Rosaline and Dario’s relationship without a cliché wedding. However, we are also shown a humorous yet sobering look at Romeo and Juliet’s relationship as two people swept up in the drama of romance without stopping to consider the character of the person they’re with.

All in all, if you’re looking for a funny romantic comedy to watch that doesn’t take itself too seriously, I would definitely recommend this film.

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