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film review

Spencer Stevenson as Paris, left, Kaitlyn Dever as Rosaline, Kyle Allen as Romeo, and Henry Hunter Hall as Mercutio in 20th Century Studios' Rosaline.Moris Puccio/Courtesy of 20th Century Studios

  • Rosaline
  • Directed by Karen Maine
  • Written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, based on the novel by Rebecca Serle
  • Starring Kaitlyn Dever, Isabela Merced and Bradley Whitford
  • Classification PG; 100 minutes
  • Streaming on Disney+ starting Oct. 14

Critic’s Pick

Did you hear the story about Romeo’s ex? No? Lucky for you a new take on the Shakespearean classic wants to set the record straight and take you along a rollicking ride as Romeo’s feisty former love – and Juliet’s cousin – gets to tell her side of the saga in the new Disney film Rosaline.

Frankly, I barely remembered the mention of Rosaline in The Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet. I had to crack open my copy of The Norton Shakespeare, and flip to Act 1, Scene 2, to ascertain that there was, in fact, such a character, mentioned in passing. A character whom Romeo never names, but describes as a woman with “Dian’s wit” and who will not be marked by love’s “weak childish bow.” So he clearly knew Rosaline was too good for him, and promptly forgets her when he sets sights upon Juliet three scenes later.

Played by a wonderfully sassy Kaitlyn Dever, Rosaline is indeed too good for Romeo. As the movie opens, we find the titular character on the balcony with Romeo, trying to make sense of his flowery declarations of love with a furrowed brow. Is she in love or in love with the idea of love? Or as her bestie Paris (played by Spencer Stevenson as a saucy, queer Count) points out, maybe Rosaline is just into all the drama of Romeo and Rosaline’s romance, given she’s a Capulet and he’s a Montague.

At home, in the meantime, Rosaline is fending off all the doddering suitors that her father Adrian (Bradley Whitford) is throwing her way. She’s a teenager with dreams of mapping the world, not being bound by making and raising babies. Besides Paris, Rosaline also has a friend in her Nurse (Minnie Driver), another overqualified woman who likes to dish out doses of reality to her young ward.

However, there is one suitor worth Rosaline’s time. Dario (Sean Teale), the dashing soldier, who doesn’t moon after her. Instead he parries with his words, especially when Rosaline embroils him in her plan to first break up Romeo and Juliet, and then to make her amends.

There’s lots to like about this reboot. There is, of course, the Bridgerton-inspired tone to the movie. Set in medieval Verona, the movie is lush with landscape and period details such as the costumes. The characters, meanwhile, break into contemporary language all the time, and there are classical riffs on pop tunes such as All By Myself and Dancing On My Own.

Dever plays Rosaline, a teenager who dreams of being a cartographer.Moris Puccio/Courtesy of 20th Century Studios

The main draw, however, is Dever’s delivery of Rosaline as a young woman who’s trying to figure out where she stands. In her charming banter with Nurse, who likes to remind us that she’s a medical professional, we see her trying to work out why she’s into Romeo in the first place. Her exchanges with her father, whom Whitford plays as a bit of an eccentric, similarly add to the nudge-nudge-wink-wink delight of the movie. Driver and Whitford know how to play these roles just so, adding to the general hilarity of the concept.

Then there’s the chemistry between Rosaline and Dario. Unlike Netflix’s recently released Fleabag-inspired version of Persuasion, where Wentworth was just too earnest compared to ironic Anne, here Rosaline and Dario’s verbal jousting actually carries some bite.

Sure, the movie turns formulaic at times. The switching between period drama and modern remake vibes can be distracting, and there’s the occasional stilted speechifying about the houses of the Montagues and the Capulets. The movie then becomes more of a vehicle for clever wordplay rather than actual drama.

Despite those quibbles, Rosaline ultimately sparkles in this cheeky telling of the greatest love story never told.

Special to The Globe and Mail