This fun but forgettable romantic caper takes us behind the Romeo and Juliet legend for a look at the life of Romeo's jilted ex
The Bridgerton model of classical romance reinventions finally makes it to Shakespeare with Rosaline, a sort of Guildenstern and Rosencrantz are Dead for a Romeo and Juliet supporting character, complete with beautiful young people speaking modern words in period costumes, all set to contemporary pop songs. As the title suggests, Karen Maine’s film tackles the life of Romeo’s first love pre-Juliet, Rosaline (Kaitlyn Dever), another forbidden Capulet who is swiftly forgotten after the centrepiece masquerade ball introduces the iconic couple.
We first meet Rosaline in a scene that will feel familiar, as she stands on her Renaissance-era Verona balcony being softly serenaded by the romantic poetry of Romeo (Kyle Allen). She’s head-over-heels in secretive love for him so, when she misses the masquerade ball due to an enforced date with a new suitor and he immediately falls for her cousin Juliet (Isabela Merced), Rosaline’s primary mission in life becomes taking him back.
What follows is the sort of silly jealous scheming you might expect, the sharp and cunning Rosaline taking the more innocent Juliet under her wing to introduce her to the joys of casual flirting and bad-mouth Romeo in a series of break-up attempts. It hardly goes anywhere unexpected; not only have the underlying fates of the characters been set in stone for almost 500 years by now, but the relationship between Rosaline and Juliet follows the genre formula to a T.
In keeping with this formula, Rosaline also gets her own proper love interest, witty and handsome soldier Dario (Sean Teale), who turns out to be a far better fit for her than the weaker and more preening Romeo. It’s all very “been there, done that,” but that doesn’t mean there isn’t fun to be had along the way. The performances are funny and light on their feet and, though the novelty of modern dialogue in costume-drama settings has long since worn off, the script has enough wit and charm to keep things ticking along.
With Dever in the lead as an above-it-all teen heroine barrelling between different capers, Rosaline has the feeling of a Renaissance version of Booksmart – though it is nowhere near as funny or flashily directed – which is a fun world to live in for the brisk 90-minute runtime. It hardly reinvents the wheel for its genre, and could have done with a few more genuinely impactful or memorable moments, but this is an enjoyable “behind-the-legend” look at literature’s most infamous love story.
Rosaline is now streaming on Disney+.Where to watch