Camaron Engels and Francesca Noel appear in R#J by Carey Williams, an official selection of the NEXT section at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Charles Murphy.
We’ve all seen some version of Romeo and Juliet, but none of them compare to Carey Williams’ R#J.
Carey Williams, Rickie Castaneda, Alex Sobolev
Date Released (Sundance Film Festival)
Comedy, Drama, Romance, Young Adult
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Remixed for modern times, we’re in the age of facetime, Instagram, and Spotify. With that in mind, Juliet remains a sort of princess, but more so in her being privileged enough to have her own studio to do her art pieces. Then with Romeo, he’s this quirky, lowkey hipster kid, but more lovable than you’ve ever known him. And, of course, Mercutio is outrageous. He is flamboyant, draws on many nods to being potentially queer, and is absolutely hilarious – as he should be.
But, while many of the characters are modernized, and the story shifted, like some characters dead or replaced, the acts are mostly the same. With only one or two real notable changes.
Things To Note | Question(s) Left Unanswered
Reason(s) for Film Rating: There is nudity in the form of art, blood, violence, and cursing.
Jump Scares/ Laughs/ Tear-Jerking Moments: Mercutio is hilarious throughout, and you’ll love Romeo and Juliet’s romance to the point of happy tears in good times and sad tears as they go through their struggles.
Cast & Characters
Please Note: This is not an exhaustive list of every cast member and character.
An only child, and her father’s princess, Juliet lives a privileged life, which includes an apartment-sized studio where you can find her various paintings throughout. But, while she might be privileged in terms of what her dad affords her, with not having her mom, everything isn’t sunshine and daisies.
Like Juliet, Romeo knows lost, and it is the death of his brother by Tybalt’s father that is the root of their two families’ beefing. Yet, for the eccentric Romeo, he holds no grudges, and really, he just wants to fall in love. Especially since he spent so much of his life being curved.
The funniest person in the room, with the loudest outfit and voice, that remains Mercutio. They are the person who knows where the party is and also gets it started, and while their flamboyant persona may make you think you can say and do what you want, take note – Mercutio can and will whip your ass if they need to.
Pure machismo, Tybalt has a chip on his shoulder, a toxic male ego, and is almost always looking for a fight. Making it so the only time you may ever see him soft or any form of vulnerable is when it comes to Juliet, who he bonds with since they both are missing one of their parents.
Ebonics Mixed With Old English
Shakespearian English is not easy to pick up, and for some, Ebonics is just the same. Yet, with them side by side, you are reminded how artful both dialects are and how there is a certain flow in the words and rhythm they use. But, as much as they are similar, they are also opposites, so to go from Shakespearian English to hearing Mercutio add in a “Shut yo ass up” or inserting a “Periodt” into his dialog, it’s comical and also shakes things up.
But, even if the Shakespearian English and/or Ebonics doesn’t necessarily click with you, the performances give you the kind of emotion you need where words don’t matter.
Engels and Noel as Romeo and Juliet
It’s really amazing how you can be aware of the dialog and know the arks, and the only difference is the faces saying the lines, yet you still become enraptured. And with the way Williams made R#J, honestly, there are times you don’t need to hear the words to fall in love with his version of Romeo and Juliet. For giving Romeo and Juliet the freedom to be creative, weird, and unique, they are allowed to show their personalities. Making it so you can almost see them fall in love with who the other person is more than being romanced by words.
This plays well into the social media inclusion since often, people’s social media is their personality. It is their hopes, their dreams, who they put out into the world, and it makes when Romeo and Juliet meet, and their online personas match their real ones, you seeing these two are perfect for one another. Thus making each facetime, each text, necessary and beyond feeling like a young love obsession but truly living up to the romance that this story is always hyped to be.
The Live Video Comments
When it comes to the altercations between the Capulet and Montagues, the situations are often done on Instagram Live. In those scenes, you may find yourself taking note more of the comment section than what’s going on in the scene. Be it when someone says Mercutio skinned Elmo and made him into a jacket, or just the amount of s*** people talk when someone, such as Tybalt, is getting their behind whooped. Truly, in an age where so many directors want to see forward for using social media, Williams found the absolute best way, and it adds a new layer of humor to the film.
How It Modernizes The Story Using Social Media
And speaking of social media, the way it is used is beyond anything I can think of off-hand. Be it using Instagram to give us an idea of who people are, rather than telling us. How Spotify provides us with an idea of a character’s background or is used as a game for Romeo and Juliet to talk, while most films may dabble with using phones and social media as part of the narrative, R#J goes all in and does so flawlessly.
Heck, even towards the end, when characters start dying, the push of stories going viral, with misinformation, and online bullying really helps set up the ending in a whole new way. All the while putting a mirror to society, without being of an after school special variety.
The Background and Story Changes
Much could be said by making Romeo Black and, based on her Mictecacihuatl makeup, Juliet and her family being Mexican. Especially since the issues between their family deal with alcoholism, a wrongful death, a corrupt legal system, and just a desire for justice. These shifts feel like they make the age-old story palatable and relatable to modern times. Yet, not in a way that panders, since you feel the inclusion of Latinx and Black culture is meant to show us real diversity, and not just these roles played with someone not of the usual Romeo and Juliet skin tone.
The Ending Gets You So Emotional
It’s hard to talk about the ending for multiple reasons. However, I will say we love how it was handled, and like everything before it, there was a reminder of how much social media matters in terms of your presence on it deciding whether or not you exist.
This is the definitive Romeo and Juliet for me. And I know, it seems nearly every decade we get a new movie adaptation of this one, but I think R#J might be the last one we need, unless technology drastically changes by 2030. For R#J just gives you everything you need. It modernizes the characters and story but stays true to the arcs and dialog. Also, it makes what for some was hell in English class fun, thanks to remixing the words with common phrases and using text language, like .gifs, to break up the parts you may have formerly tuned out on.
Add in not just presenting actors of different cultures and races, but making the characters themselves have cultures that reflect who the actors are, and you get an increasingly lost list of positives with few, if any, negatives. Hence the positive label and recommendation. R#J not only acts as a reminder that Shakespeare’s work is eternal, but also that Carey Williams is one to watch, as well as his cast. And dare I say, better than many English teachers, it teaches you how to understand the meaning behind the words and gives you an understanding of the emotions they are meant to convey.
How It Modernizes The Story Using Social Media - 86%
The Background and Story Changes - 85%
The Ending Gets You So Emotional - 84%
R#J not only acts as a reminder that Shakespeare's work is eternal, but also that Carey Williams is one to watch, as well as his cast. And dare I say, better than many English teachers, it teaches you how to understand the meaning behind the words and gives you an understanding of the emotions they are meant to convey.