Rosaline, by Albert W. Vogt III

There is a movie coming out at the end of this month called Prey for the Devil.  It has been a part of the trailer package for the majority of the films I have seen in the theater for months.  I have no desire to watch it, but it does appear to directly deal with the Catholic Church and demon possession.  Confusingly, it seems to feature a nun learning to become an exorcist, which is problematic, to say the very least.  I only wish to say the “very least” here because I have no desire to get into a feminist deconstruction of a movie I will be avoiding.  Neither is that the point.  The Catholic stuff would be the only reason I would drag myself to the theater that weekend, but I will not be doing so because it is demonic looking.  A part of me wants to go so I can tear it to shreds in a review.  That inkling of a notion died when I discussed the film with a priest friend of mine.  Unequivocally, he told me that he does not watch scary movies.  That is good enough for me.  With these words ringing in my head, I looked over what was out this weekend.  My heart sank when I saw Halloween Ends.  Even with the cautions from my priest, I have not viewed a single entry in that bloated, and probably unnecessary, franchise.  Thankfully, I made the decision to stay home, put on Hulu and watch their newest film, Rosaline.

If Rosaline induces some faint tickle in the back of your brain, perhaps from high school English Literature like me, then you might remember that the title character (Kaitlyn Dever) is mentioned in perhaps the famous play of all time, William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet.  There are many intersections between this film and the Bard’s work.  Indeed, the opening shots are basically the balcony scene, though it is Romeo (Kyle Allen) declaring his affections for Rosaline.  He even uses some of the same lines, which, if you know your Shakespeare, is hilarious.  Rosaline is a no-nonsense kind of woman, though she is taken with her crush’s flowery prose.  Like with the real play, there is the inevitable catch: she is a Capulet and he is a rival Montague.  And yes, it all takes place in fair Verona.  For the moment, their affection is mutual.  Romeo offers a romantic alternative to the aged stiffs with whom Rosaline’s father, Adrian (Bradley Whitford), is trying to match her.  The one thing that she is not prepared for is Romeo telling her that he loves her.  This happens the next night in a repeat performance on the balcony.  Wanting to have a life of adventure and other thrills, she is not ready to return his sentiments and their hoped-for domestic bliss.  When he backs awkwardly in the direction from whence he came, she immediately regrets it.  The next morning, Adrian brings yet another suitor, the dashing young sailor Dario (Sean Teale).  With an expected night of dancing with Romeo at the masquerade ball that night, Rosaline annoyedly allows Dario to take her on an outing in his sailboat.  Though he is a gentleman the entire time, an unexpected rain storm delays them on the lake, and she is not able to make it to the event on time.  Once more, remembering the sequence of events from the real play would help you here because it is at this soiree that Romeo meets Juliet (Isabela Merced).  A gloomy Rosaline is cheered the next day when she receives word that Romeo is on his way up the familiar garden path, but gets to her post in time only to see him veer in another direction.  Following him, she witnesses him go to the arms of another, using the same lines he had used on her.  Though she does not recognize this new rival at the time, it later turns out to be her newly returned and grown-up cousin Juliet.  Juliet looks up to Rosaline, and Rosaline takes her younger relation under her wing.  Rosaline’s desire is to get Juliet off Romeo’s scent so that Rosaline could have him.  Rosaline does so by taking Juliet out to bars and telling the impressionable cousin that she should live life instead of settling for a boyfriend.  Meanwhile, she is sending letter after frantic letter to Romeo with increasing worriedness with every one that does not receive a reply. Eventually, Rosaline decides to confess the affair to Juliet, but this backfires when Romeo arrives for what another moonlit balcony encounter.  The guy does like his balconies.  It goes badly because Juliet finds the pendant Romeo gave Rosaline, and thus Juliet becomes suspicious of everything Rosaline has done.  Then you have the expected duel between Romeo and Tybalt (Alistair Toovey), resulting in the latter’s death and the former needing to go into hiding.  Juliet exacerbates the problem by coming to Romeo’s defense, revealing that she had secretly married Romeo, a ceremony that Rosaline (with Dario’s assistance) had fruitlessly attempted to stop.  Rosaline also witnesses the scene in the center of Verona, and feels sympathy for Juliet even if the younger cousin is still angry.  Later, Rosaline and Dario go to Juliet to try and fix the matter.  Unfortunately, Juliet had already taken the draught to render her close to death, and she soon passes out in Rosaline’s arms.  Lord Capulet (Christopher McDonald), Juliet’s father, finds them in this pose and accuses Rosaline of killing Juliet.  Rosaline is freed by Adrian, and races to the place where Juliet’s body lies in state.  Next to it is a devastated Romeo, also playing dead thanks to Dario’s intervention.  They are able to keep up the charade long enough to have the Capulets and Montagues sort out their differences and leave.  So, too, do our new couples and the familiar ones, depart together and alive.

I am not a Shakespeare expert by any stretch of the imagination, but what I do remember made my viewing of Rosaline enjoyable.  I also do not look at classic literature as so sacrosanct that you cannot play with their stories to a degree.  A lot of times it makes for a more interesting literary experience.  For example, I do not care for Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, but I love Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2009).  While Rosaline does not add any supernatural elements, it does have a far different ending since the two star-crossed lovers sail off into the sunset on course for Cyprus.  There is a really funny post-credits scene with them, too, as they realize the length of the voyage and they quickly run out of topics of conversation.  What this film attempts to do more of is fill in the periphery of the rich tale that is Romeo and Juliet.  Rosaline, as the bard tells us, is, in fact, the first woman to which Romeo gave his devotions.  The play does not tell us much about her fate.  She is simply brushed to the side as soon as Romeo spots Juliet.  To fill in this literary gap, I am pleased that they went with modern language instead of the English of Shakespeare’s time.  In fact, they make fun of the older dialect as it is used usually only when Romeo is trying to impress either Juliet or Rosaline.  On the whole, it makes for a fun experience.

What is also fun in Rosaline is the way they handled the post-credits scene with Romeo and Juliet.  This is what happens when two people do not take the time to get to know one another, being only able to ask if the other likes food.  In a sense, this reminds of the kind of relationship many people have with God.  There are far too many who pray only the cursory things to God, the prayer equivalent of asking if He likes food.  This is something Catholics are routinely accused of, saying that devotions like the Rosary are a bunch of meaningly words.  Of course, this is not true.  Yet, my favorite line of the movie comes when love is described as not being rational.  When I heard this, I thought of the incredible and unearned gifts God gives us on a daily basis.  He does not ask for anything in return but Faith in Him.  It is an irrational act on His part, all that he does this for us, but not in the sense that it is crazy.  For God, the irrational means something beyond our comprehension, more than merely inquiring about our food preferences.  Our characters do not see the world in this way, which is a shame because the play has a prominent role for the Church.  For example, the person that marries Romeo and Juliet is a friar if you are keeping score at home.

There are a lot of other tidbits in Rosaline that made it a fun experience.  One of my favorites is when Rosaline tells off Juliet for having a dumb plot for her and Julie to be reunited.  Rosaline lays out the fake poisoning stunt, and Rosaline says it is the dumbest expletive plan she has ever heard.  On the whole, I am sure it tells a classic story in a fun package.  Put the kids to bed, and put this on.

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