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SXSW Review: “R#J” Is a Fresh Take on the Classic “Romeo and Juliet” Tragedy, Told Through Modern Technology

Written by: Matt Patti | March 22nd, 2021

R#J director Carey Williams | Credit: Lizeth Sandoval

R#J (Carey Williams, 2021) 3 out of 4 stars.

Romeo and Juliet, the classic Shakespearean tale of star-crossed lovers, has had many film iterations throughout the years. Some kept the classic, old-time style of the original tale, others experimented with telling a more modern version of it. R#J, as you might assume, is one of these present-day retellings. The film takes the popular source material into the present day and presents it almost entirely on a phone screen. Similar to 2018’s Searching, R#J goes through the beats of the Romeo and Juliet plot through text messages, video calls, livestreams, social-media posts and more 21st-century technology, to a very compelling result.

Like Searching, R#J dazzles with its assortment of media presentation. The film is a technological achievement, perfectly updating Shakespeare’s lore and placing it into modern day. The “shots” in the film are presented in a uniquely cinematicway, such as reading a text conversation in reverse. The scenes also transition well to other scenes even if a different platform is shown, with impressive editing work. The film’s presentation helps make it more realistic and we feel as if we are in the character’s bodies, reading texts and watching videos on their phone, right there in the midst of it. The diverse cast and assortment of characters is very refreshing and the performances are all mostly satisfying. The film does a great job of highlighting how, if events similar to Romeo and Juliet were to unfold in today’s climate, the circumstances could be even worse due to cyber-bullying, media/news interference, and a spread of potentially false information thanks to the internet and social media.

l-r: Camaron Engels and Francesca Noel in R#J ©Interface Films

Unfortunately, at times throughout the film there is some awkward line delivery. This happens because the filmmakers choose to use some of Shakespeare’s original lines and have characters speak them alongside some of their modern-day colloquialisms. The old and new dialects don’t always mix well and sometimes come off awkwardly. The film also breaks its own rules sometimes and features typical cinema shots that are not on a phone screen or on any media platform, which is definitely noticeable and a distraction. The only other real issue I have with the film is that the main characters fall in love far too quickly, but that is a similar issue each iteration of Romeo and Juliet faces.

Without getting into spoiler territory, R#J manages to deviate slightly from the plot norms of Shakespeare’s original tale and therefore delivers a breath of fresh air to the story, specifically the conclusion. Though the film has some faults, R#J is an enthralling look into what could happen if the events of Romeo and Juliet happened today. Through its unique media presentation, the film draws the viewer into the story in ways that were never possible before. When I first discovered the idea of showing an entire film (or most of it) through a device screen, I had my doubts. However, now, with these recent successes, I look forward to experiencing more of them.

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Matt Patti is a Stevenson University alumnus who graduated with a degree in Film & Moving Image, with a concentration in producing and writing and a minor in communication. He has enjoyed voicing his opinions on films since a very young age. Matt has recently moved to the Baltimore area and currently works full-time as a Video Production Assistant. He also enjoys creating short films with Baltimore-area friends to enter into contests as well as purely for the love of the craft.

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