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R#J

By Sabina Dana Plasse | February 4, 2021

SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2021 REVIEW! Your first clue that this is not your English teacher’s Shakespeare is the title R#J. Director Carey Williams holds nothing back in breaking ground in the digital battlefield with the debut of his version of Romeo and JulietR#J. Someone was going to do it, and Williams took the plunge.

At first, R#J may take a bit to get used to as we are watching a film through a device. However, we’ve also been accepting texting, Zoom calls, live streaming, and a few other means of communication for some time. Now, The Bard’s famed tragic romance has been brought to the digital world. Performances do come through, but some of the flowery prose is lost, especially between Romeo (Camaron Engels) and Juliet (Francesca Noel), but the filmmaker has a good cast. The cast had to get used to doing things a bit differently as they were often filming themselves.

In this adaptation, Juliet is a blossoming artist, and Romeo has a strong online presence. Unfortunately, it’s hard to imagine them together because you mostly see them in photos and videos on social media, so the nuances of a budding first love and the intended language is a bit lost. In contrast, Tybalt, played by Diego Tinoco, and Mercutio, played by Siddiq Saunderson, steal the spotlight and do it well with a great command of their Shakespeare and role. I would say they loved it.

“…The Bard’s famed tragic romance has been brought to the digital world.”

In addition, a few 21st-century modifications were well played—music selections, people of color, and excellent make-up for the Día de los Muertos. However, watching constant texting and close-up conversations and flip-flopping from Instagram to FaceTime does get tiresome, and a longing for some traditional motion picture does arise. However, keep in mind, everything was constructed for social media, and these now common ways of staying in touch—profiles were created, messages sent to and from, hashtags used. No matter the format or presentation, the world’s most recognized love story gets told in a compelling manner, and the “lucha” between the houses of Capulet and Montague as ferocious as ever as is the deep love of Romeo and Juliet, which has no racial boundaries no matter who is playing the roles.

Williams also provides the act breaks, which give a place of reference if you feel lost by the combination of smartphone screens intercut with Shakespeare—although they do feel as if you entered a new gaming level when they appear. I praise Williams for making a special attempt at revealing, through texting and across all the social media platforms he employs, how destructive, irresponsible, and ill-willed social media can be, especially when you don’t have to reveal yourself. It is an engaging metaphor for this classic story and is where the director finds truly new intriguing ground in his presentation, even if that presentation isn’t always the clearest.

All in all, I would say that R#J, as a new version of Romeo and Juliet, will have some appeal to its supposed Gen-Z audience, although I’m not sure they will understand it unless they read the play first. But isn’t that always the case that the book is better than the movie? If anything, do watch this film to the absolute very end.

R#J premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.

R#J (2021)

Directed: Carey Williams

Written: Carey Williams, Rickie Castaneda, Alex Sobolev

Starring: Camaron Engels, Francesca Noel, David Zayas, Diego Tinoco, Siddiq Saunderson, Russell Hornsby, etc.

Movie score: 7.5/10

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"…not sure they will understand it unless they read the play first."

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