Despite being an unseen character in the original play whose purpose is to be a plot device that allows for Romeo and Juliet’s chance encounter, the film reimagines Rosaline as Romeo’s ex-girlfriend who he leaves due to becoming rapidly enamoured with Juliet. The titular character is played by Kaitlyn Dever, best known for her roles in comedies such as Ticket to Paradise (2022) and Booksmart (2019). Dever once again shines in a comedic role as she tries to foil her cousin Juliet’s budding relationship with her ex.
Whereas Luhrmann’s 1996 Romeo + Juliet had a modern setting with Shakespearean dialogue, Rosaline is the opposite: the original Shakespearean setting with modern dialogue, humour and ideas. Rosaline herself is a bit of a feminist, protesting against the expectation that she should marry wealthy older suitors much to her father’s (Bradley Whitford) exasperation. Because the film doesn’t focus on Romeo and Juliet’s blossoming love story from their perspective, another character that gets to shine is the character of Paris (Spencer Stevenson) who is portrayed as the gay best friend of Rosaline. Used by Rosaline to help foil Juliet and Romeo’s relationship, Stevenson portrays a closeted Paris who is equally unhappy as Juliet when their wedding is bumped up following Romeo’s exile. All of the cast does an excellent job in their comedic moments and heartfelt moments.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a romantic comedy without an attractive romantic interest. Romeo is played by Kyle Allen, who looks eerily like the late Heath Ledger in this film, and also featured in the 2021 West Side Story (clearly has a thing for Romeo and Juliet retellings). Throughout the course of the film, Rosaline moves on from Romeo and finds herself falling for Dario (Sean Teale), a former soldier who she rejected initially as a suitor. As poor Dario gets swept up in Rosaline’s constantly failing plans to foil the blossoming relationship between Romeo and Juliet, the chemistry between the two is undeniable.
Even though I tend to not particularly enjoy romantic comedies, Rosaline managed to make it into the small selection of ones I do like, joining 10 Things I Hate About You (1999). Clearly, retellings of Shakespeare hit the spot for me! Rosaline is an enjoyable watch, applying a modern feminist lens to a not-so-feminist story about impulsive star-crossed lovers who probably wouldn’t have worked in the long run (thank you credits scene for showing how rushed their relationship is).
Rosaline is available on Disney Plus now.