SXSW 2021 R#J Review – What’s Old Is New and Beautiful Again

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Film festivals are all about hidden gems, diversity and hard to find movies that at the end of the day make your heart smile because of their uniqueness that screams with talent. This year’s SXSW selection is the definition of independence and thinking outside of the box, even if that box is something we’ve seen before. R#J is a reimagined retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet unlike anything you’ve seen before.

Similar to what Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet did for its generation, R#J speaks to today’s generation by effortlessly blending diverse talented actors with technology, social media platforms, and storytelling that takes you into the mindset and culture of the emotionally charged teenage life and heartaches of falling in love.

While the original storyline remains intact: two families at war, two lovers from different households in love, and two deaths that happen on screen. In this version, Facetime replaces balconies, Spotify filled with angsty songs replaces longing stares and what truly stands out is the beauty and ugliness of social media that screams “everyone, look at me, I exist”.

Just like today’s society everyone needs to document every moment of their lives for social media; nothing is left sacred. Mindless gossip feeds and festers through likes and vague images found on Pinterest. This allows everyone to see aspects of our lives people carefully curate others to see —sometimes for the better and sometimes (especially for Romeo and Juliet) for the worst. Yet, they are never seen by the people they truly want to impress: their families.

In this version, Romeo and his friends crash Juliet’s (who is now Mexican) “party” that is meant to celebrate the life her mother had before her passing. Similar to Dia de los Mertos (Day of the Dead), it’s filled with life, culture, beauty and a live stream as Romeo and his friends lively paint their faces to represent the traditional skulls people associate with Mexican culture; documenting their experiences for all to see.

Montague and Capulet are replaced with Brown and Black families feuding with one another as the Shakespearean features a dash of modern words sprinkled in both the spoken word, as well as in the written forms on social media posts. It’s simple yet genius.

Director Carey Williams is a visionary, and it’s hard to believe R#J is his first full-length film. William and everyone involved have manages to retell a story that is as alive as it is diverse. Love and infatuation are replaced with Romeo attempting to sneak the picture of Rozaline to send to her. As shared Spotify playlist are emotions too afraid and self-conscious to say out loud. While the supporting cast is introduced through pictures, music and Instagram posts, they provide moments of hilarity and anger.

Then there is the shocking ending that asks, “what if?” What if social media can be controlled to a person advantage? What if what has caused so much pain can give a moment or relief, an opportunity to live in their truth. It is profound and memorable.

R#J is why people make movies and people love to watch them. It is not only an escapism but a passion project that fills the heart with joy and wonder. Combines music, dance, community, and love solely through device that’s in everyone pockets, this re-imagined work proves Shakespeare is for everyone and will always be timeless proving the staying power of the written word.

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