Simultaneously the worst and best movie ever made
Actually one of my teachers watched every single version of Romeo and Juliet with the original text in front of him to prove that this was the worst version, but to his great dismay its the most accurate film adaptation of it, with the lines closest to the original text and most similar stage direction and relayed emotions.
He proceeded to show it to us in class.
The thing is, when I was in my first year of an English undergrad, my professor showed us three versions of the opening scene of Romeo and Juliet. The first two were more traditional versions, probably the Coppola film and some filmed stage production, and during the first two scenes, we all stoically watched, observed, and took notes. Then he put this on, and things got a whole less academic. We giggled and snorted and laughed.
So then my professor turned of the TV and said with a knowing smile, “you all laughed at the third one, but not at the first two. Why is that?”
And there wasn’t really an answer except that the third one had just been FUNNY. I don’t think any of us at that age had ever really considered that Shakespeare COULD be funny, that he COULD be laughed at. In school, we learn that Shakespeare is this untouchable literary giant responsible for the most beautiful language and the most affecting drama in the English language canon. But we are so disconnected from the fact that the Bard was also writing for the common folk, and damn if he didn’t like to make them laugh.
I’m an English PhD candidate now, and I do find Shakespeare in his original incarnation funny, now that I’ve had time to understand the proper context and theatrical tradition and have spent time with this mode of theatre. But I think that what Luhrman’s movie does, for better or worse, is he removes the intimidating prestige from Shakespeare and focuses entirely on making an enjoyable movie, illustrating the difficult language with relatable and animated action in such a way that it’s much easier for a mass-modern audience unfamiliar with Shakespearian tradition to engage with.
Whether or not this works for you is a matter of taste. I can’t say it’s a perfect movie, but I do think it has its merits.