“O, wilst thou leave me so unsatisfied?”
Shakespeare was pretty cool when I was a teenager — not for the first time, of course. Shakespeare In Love beat Saving Private Ryan for the Best Picture Oscar for 1998. There was 1999’s attractively cast A Midsummer Night’s Dream, starring Michelle Pfeiffer, Rupert Everett, and Calista Flockhart. Teen movies like 10 Things I Hate About You and 2001’s O repurposed the Bard’s plays for my generation. I studied Shakespeare in at least three different classes, but it never felt as stuffy or irrelevant as I imagine it has for other students, in other moments. Shakespeare was everywhere in the 90s, all violent and horny, like the rest of the pop culture that appealed to us.
A lot of that is thanks to Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 Romeo + Juliet, starring two of the hottest teen stars of the era, Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio. Leo’s dreamboat appeal in the 90s was otherworldly — it felt like he was already a timeless legend, like Elvis, the Beatles, or James Dean. I don’t know if adults at the time felt this way, but unlike a lot of teen stars at the time, Leo was in no way relatable. He barely even seemed material. So casting him as Romeo, the poster boy for adolescent swooning, was a brilliant move. Baz Luhrmann capitalized on that by dressing him as a knight in shining armor in the film’s key scene, when he meets fair Juliet at a costume party. She, of course, is dressed as an angel. It’s the perfect visualization for who these characters are to each other, and who they’ve been to us for hundreds of years now.
Somehow, I didn’t much care to see this film when it was released. It was perhaps a little too teenaged for my budding tastes at that moment. But the soundtrack was inescapable — in my memory, songs like “#1 Crush” and “Lovefool” loom even larger than the movie. It was all much too cool for me. By the time I was ready for that sort of thing, teen fandom had moved on to another doomed romance starring Leo — Titanic.
So I get the fandom for Romeo + Juliet. I really do. I guess I just missed the boat…