An uneven as it is amiable, new romantic comedy Rosaline tries to turn William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet on its head with a story about Romeo Montague’s mentioned, but never seen, girlfriend immediately prior to the events of the play. Director Karen Maine keeps things light-hearted and high-spirited, but at the same time does not quite manage to tighten up a messy and inconsistent screenplay.
Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber’s script ostensibly adapts Rebecca Searle’s 2012 novel When You Were Mine, but what it really does it act like a pick-and-mix purchase in someone else’s DVD collection. There is the period setting and plucky romantic heroine of Andy Tennant’s Ever After, the cheerful anachronisms of Brian Helgeland’s A Knight’s Tale, the snarky “Shakespeare for teens” banter of Gil Junger’s 10 Things I Hate About You, and the self-aware backstage commentary of Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead. Rosaline is not as good as any of those earlier works, but is also reminiscent of all of them on a scene-by-scene basis. There is a good time to be had, but how good a time that is really depends on how rigorous your standards are. There are laughs, sometimes good ones, but there is also a lot of rolling of eyes and waiting for the obvious, unsurprising story to resolve itself.
As the titular heroine, Kaitlyn Dever as good as owns the film: she is likeable, engaging, and wonderfully funny. Whether it is in the delivery of her dialogue, or physical pratfalls, she seems a gifted comedy performer with a bright future. Also very funny, and very welcome, is Minnie Driver as Rosaline’s nurse, a play on Juliet’s nurse in Shakespeare’s versions that pays off marvellously. Sadly the rest of the cast suffer from moribund dialogue and a lack of opportunity to be funny. Sean Teale is charming as love interest Dario, but fails to get too many chances for comedy himself. Kyle Allen plays Romeo well as a vacuous hunk, with an uncanny resemblance to the late Heath Ledger (similarities to 10 Things and A Knight’s Tale feel particularly pointed at times). Isabela Merced is trapped beneath Juliet’s plot purpose, and is never allowed to turn her cypher into an actual character. Even Bradley Whitford and Christopher McDonald as Rosaline and Juliet’s respective fathers struggle for enthusiasm: both competent, of course, but their talents were probably surplus to their characters’ requirement. Weirdly, both McDonald and Whitford played antagonists in early Adam Sandler movies, where they got more out of funnier roles.
The film benefits enormously from a location shoot in and around Italian town San Gimignano, which reflects a Renaissance-era Italian city much better than 21st century Verona does. It really a lovely town, surrounded by attractive countryside, and ensures that, even when the story is failing to fully engage, it is still very pretty at which to look.
Rosaline is fluff, and it has clearly been made in the hope of its audience having a good time. Its target market will likely be fairly forgiving, and focus on the best bits while accepting the less successful elements. The further from that market one sits, however, the harder an entertainment it will become to completely enjoy. I can see greater things from Kaitlyn Dever in her future though; she is a comedic actor to watch.