VOD Review - Private Romeo

Alan Brown's movie takes its queue from the play by Joe Calarco. Calarco reimagined Romeo and Juliet as a five-person piece that's all male. Aside from cutting it down, making the love tragedy all-male is not that far fetched. In the Elizabethan Age, most theater productions had all-male casts. Men played female roles, usually in drag, so in reality men professed love to other men on stage all the time. Here, however, Alan Brown intends for the context and theme to be outright homosexual love. Brown sets this story at the fictional McKinley Military Academy with all the boys being army cadets.

The problem is that I'm not sure I totally get the premise. The boys that comprise the main cast start the movie by reading the text of Shakespeare's play in a classroom. When the boys are outside the classroom, they continue to speak or rather quote the text. At first, it seems like they're doing so in an ironic way.

They also seem to do so in a joking manner, which I actually appreciated. Characters would then switch and speak in modern-day English, but they would then awkwardly transition back into speaking in Shakespearean English or rather quoting the poetic text directly, and there appeared to be no rule as to when or why the characters would transition like that or when and why they would  transition back. It was a little disconcerting.

Seth Numrich, a successful Broadway actor, stars as Sam Singleton, a cadet in a military school. The school is mostly empty. The student body and faculty have gone on some training exercise for the week. Only a handful of cadets remain. Those cadets pretty much have free reign of the place. Their actions are monitored by Ken Lee, played by Charlie Barnett (Chicago Fire), a fellow cadet with a bit more experience, wisdom and discipline. He's definitely their leader.

Ken makes the remaining cadets still run drills and perform routine tasks. The cadets also have classes, but the only one we see them attend is a class where they have to read aloud Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Sam reads the role of Romeo. Outside of class, almost as if he and everyone else are possessed, Sam becomes Romeo and every time he speaks, it's only to quote the text. There's no explanation. We simply have to accept this disconnect.

At a party, Sam sees Glenn Mangan, played by Matt Doyle, another Broadway actor and singer. Except, no one from that point forward calls him Glenn. Everyone calls him "Juliet." Every bit of dialogue that Glenn speaks from that point forward are lines designated in Shakespeare's text for Juliet.

Obviously, for Sam, it's love at first sight, and Sam kisses Glenn in full view of the other cadets. This appears to bother a few of them. Chief among them is Josh Neff, played by Hale Appleman (Teeth and Pedro). Appleman is the standout here. His performance is truly magnetic. He has an undeniable screen presence and a look to him that can seduce and scare almost at once. His character Josh at first speaks the lines of Mercutio. When Mercutio is killed off, he becomes Capulet. In Shakespeare's text, it was understood why Capulet, as Juliet's father, had a problem with Romeo and Juliet being together. Here, it's less clear.

Despite being a boy, everyone refers to Glenn as Juliet. This confused me because I don't think Brown is being slavish to quoting the text for the simple fact that he has his characters transitioning in and out of that text in other instances. What he might be implying is that for Sam and everyone else, Glenn is an actual girl named Juliet, at least in the context of the story.

In Shakespeare's day, Matt Doyle who plays Glenn would be in drag, pretending outwardly to be a woman. Here, Brown can shed that pretense and show two boys kiss and even be in bed together, nakedly equating homosexual love to the highest form of love put on display by Shakespeare.

Three Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but recommended for mature audiences.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 38 mins.


Popular Posts