Another year, another in the long line of Romeo and Juliet inspired media. How does this iteration stack up against the rest? Rosaline takes a meta approach, blending modernity with old school Shakespeare to create an intoxicating concoction. Yes, this is a movie where one can awaken to someone playing “All By Myself” on violin near their bed, despite being obviously set in a time when this song did not exist. Rosaline is not trying to emulate a version of reality; rather, the dial has been turned to full-blown rom-com, removing much of the dire sadness that is deeply rooted in spinning this ancient tale of forbidden romance.
We all know the story of Romeo and Juliet, but what of Romeo’s previous girlfriend, Rosaline? Before he fell for Juliet (Isabela Merced, Dora and the Lost City of Gold, Sicario: Day of the Soldado) at the legendary Capulet Ball, Romeo (Kyle Allen, The Map of Tiny Perfect Things, Space Oddity) was getting pretty hot and heavy with Rosaline (Kaitlyn Dever, Booksmart, Beautiful Boy). In Verona, Italy, this means spouting poetic dialogue about how to gaze upon Rosaline is akin to “drinking from the purest fountain,” flirting heavily with just words. Rosaline is completely swept away by Romeo. She herself longs to be a cartographer and pursue her passions, but her father (Bradley Whitford, Cabin in the Woods, Get Out) is convinced that Rosaline will soon be too old to marry.
Why should Rosaline be forced into an arranged marriage with someone she does not love? This makes Romeo’s romance that much more mesmerizing for the young woman. Her father continues throwing unfathomable suitors her way, but Rosaline’s gaze stays transfixed over Romeo. Romeo and Rosaline make plans to meet at the Capulet Ball, but that same day, Rosaline is set up on an arranged date with “soldier boy” Dario (Sean Teale, The Gifted, Skins). In spite of herself, Rosaline instantly feels a chemical attraction towards sweet, sarcastic Dario, who grew up on a farm. He also seems to be one of her few suitors that isn’t hideously unattractive.
Before one can say “meet cute,” Dario and Rosaline are stuck out on his boat together in the middle of a raging storm whilst in her absence, Romeo meets Juliet for the very first time at the Capulet Ball begins! With no letters coming her way from Romeo, Rosaline follows him one night only to discover he has now shifted his affections to her younger cousin, Juliet! Making it her personal mission to win back Romeo and destroy what he has developing with Juliet, Rosaline takes a Cyrano-like approach. Rosaline becomes a de-facto big sister to Juliet, helping to shoo him away in his phony ways, and hopefully back into Rosaline’s arms.
To call Rosaline predictable is par for the course—all rom-coms can be choreographed from a mile away. However, there is a great subversion here of the actual Romeo and Juliet story. With Dario on the sidelines and Rosaline’s machinations with her cousin taking center stage, director Karen Maine is able to sow seeds of feminine power and lofty ideas through a dated subtext. An ensemble cast only serves to power this very fun little movie from Hulu, with Dever’s Rosaline emerging as my favorite character of the movie. Whether one ends up on the side of Team Romeo or Team Dario, Rosaline is a frolicking and fun sweep through Shakespeare’s Verona by way of rom-com bliss.
Love letters come for Rosaline when the film debuts exclusively to Hulu on Friday, October 14th.