Film Review: Private Romeo

Get a bunch of male hotties reciting Shakespeare’s most immortal love poetry to one another and you have a hot movie, right? Wrong!

It’s pretty common knowledge by now that, in Shakespeare’s day, men played all the roles, including the female ones. Director/adaptor Alan Brown revives this gambit in his retelling of Romeo and Juliet with a specific gay spin, setting it in a modern-day military academy. Unfortunately, what might have been a potently suggestive idea—although undeniably done and done before this—devolves into an exercise that feels alternately puzzling and merely aimless.

The essential, very shakily executed premise has a bunch of army trainees learning Shakespeare in class, which somehow spills over into their real lives. What’s sorely needed is a lot more non-Shakespearean text to reinforce the basic “modernizing” conception, but Brown’s approach and use of it is so haphazard and minimal that it all ends up feeling largely superfluous. Another major flaw is Brown’s lack of differentiation between rival groups in the school to parallel the essential Capulet-Montague conflict of the original. These boys just seem basically hostile to everybody in a menacing, homoerotic manner that I suppose is a turn-on to certain types. No one dies here, either; they just get beat up real bad—leaving them with comely bruises—which is maybe a shame, but surely not a tragedy. It’s as if Brown thought that if he cast enough comely young studs, clad them in uniforms and turned them loose on the Bard, with trendy additions of YouTube and indie-rock, that would be enough. And for all the sexual piquancy, the film isn’t very sexy at all, with Brown going very demure in the intimate moments. The 1968 Zeffirelli Romeo had it all over this one for hotness. Hell, Top Gun—which also featured locker-room grunts precariously draped in towels—was even hotter!

To their credit, the young actors, Seth Numrich as “Romeo,” Matt Doyle as “Juliet,” et al., speak the verse handily, like particularly well-trained American Juilliard students, but surely this must be the only Romeo and Juliet in recollection in which the Nurse (puckish, ultra-blond Chris Bresky) is the cast standout. Doyle ends the film somewhat absurdly by suddenly breaking into song with “You Made Me Love You,” a creative decision that makes you wonder if Brown, in his quest to conquer gay audiences, wanted to be sure to appeal to all the Judy Garland fans out there as well.