Get out your butterfly clips and pop your zigzag parting back in, we’re going back to our horny teenage selves to celebrate the 25th anniversary ofBaz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet.
Whenever I read about any crazy teenage fandom – your One Direction, your Twilight, your BTS – I nod lovingly in appreciation. Because I know teenage fandom, and my crazed heart eyes were directly aimed at one target in particular: Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet.
The year was 1996, I was 11 years old and my parents had seen the movie and decided it was too violent for me. Nevertheless, I persisted. Using the sheer power of teenage girl obsession, I decided I would convince them to let me see it by memorising the entire play.
Look, I’m not going to pretend to you that I memorised Shakespeare’s best play in its entirety but I got pretty damn close. And because I had a young person’s brain, most of it stuck. Even now, 25 years later, I can still quote you the opening scene, word for word, should you ask (nobody has ever asked).
When the movie came out, it was a year before Titanic would make Leonardo DiCaprio the most famous actor on the planet, but Romeo + Juliet was a simultaneous sexual awakening for people who were interested in skinny, incredibly non-threatening or feminine-looking men (later on, this heartthrob crown would be worn by the likes of Orlando Bloom and Timothée Chalamet).
The music. The crying. The angels. The outfits. The floppy hair. The FISHTANK SCENE. The POOL SCENE. The Hawaiian shirt in the white sheets. “Julieeeet. JULIEEEEEEETTTT. I DEFY YOU STARS.”
*goes to splash cold water on face*
The thing about Baz Luhrmann is that, like all auteurs, he appreciated the power of teenage lust. Romeo + Juliet is a story fuelled by nonsensical, destructive, teenage horniness; a lust so strong and stupid it literally leaves everyone dead. But by getting the men out of tights and putting them into Hawaiian shirts and black suits, Baz was ensuring that all subsequent generations of teenagers would be able to understand at least one Shakespearean drama. (Also, Baz is currently doing a behind-the-scenes look at the movie on his instagram and it is WONDERFUL.)
When I look back 25 years (Jesus), my entire Romeo + Juliet experience reads like a 90’s bingo card. It was the second ever cassette tape I owned (the first was Ace of Base, of course). I wore out the VHS tape by rewinding the scene where Leo licked his lips. I bought a white dress like Juliet’s from Sportsgirl. I entered a Romeo + Juliet-themed poem to Girlfriend magazine (regretfully, it was not published). I carefully printed out all my favourite articles and put them into a Durasealed clearfile, so I could flip through them for my research. I lined the inside of my room with Leonardo posters from a poster book; my mum even made me remove the one I had of him from next to my bed, because ‘I was too young to sleep next to a boy.’ The fact that I wouldn’t lose my virginity for well over a decade proves that this lesson absolutely stuck.
There is something so heightened and fizzy about teenage love, especially when it’s directed towards pop culture, and those moments become fewer and far between as you get older. The Twilight franchise brought that fizz back temporarily – another scrawny, nerdish crush – as did the love triangle in Never Have I Ever (the fact that one of the biggest google searches for the series is ‘Is Paxton 30 years old’ shows that I am not alone).
Romeo + Juliet was critically panned by many when it came out – and has become a cult classic since, with even former critics coming round, a recent headline from one reading, ‘I Panned Romeo + Juliet in 1996. Now I Think It’s One of the Best Shakespeare Adaptations’. All I can say to that is LISTEN TO THE TEENAGERS. Their hearts are pure. They know what they FEEL and they FEEL THE MOST.
The effect of Romeo + Juliet has not dulled with time – upon re-watching, it’s still a brilliant, fresh, sexy and sad movie. Mercutio is still the stand-out character in a sea of stand-out characters and his death is still one of the most spectacularly devastating scenes ever. The soundtrack is still impeccable – that Radiohead song that kicks in at the end? Absolute gut punch. The look of the movie – the decrepit beaches, the gaudy, Mafioso-style houses, the party costumes… honestly, my friend Sally dressed up as Romeo in the knight costume for a Christmas party once and it remains one of the most sexually confusing moments of my life because it took me right back to being 11 again (wherefore art thou, Sally).
Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going to pull out that white dress, find my old angel wings, re-watch the best damn movie of all time and cry for
my lost youth these beautiful horny teenagers.