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The 90's were awesome. Nickelodeon was still cool, plastic lunch boxes were in style. The Seattle music scene was spreading across the country. The president played the saxophone. America Online was telling everyone, “You've got mail.” The Super Nintendo's 16 bit's of fury provided all the power anyone needed for gaming. Pluto was still a planet and you could trust that someone sporting a neck tattoo probably didn't have a job.

Yes, the 90's were awesome, except for one year that stands out like a giant middle finger in the face of what could have been the greatest decade ever. 1996 knows what it did, but here are a few highlights: Tupac got shot, Pearl Jam released No Code, Courtney Love started her acting career, Alanis Morissette beat Björk to win a Video Music Award for “Ironic” and I had just started junior high and was getting beat up by 9th graders. Oh, right, and some guy with a funny name, Baz Luhrmann, was out to prove he was the worst director ever with his mucked up vision of Shakespeare's most popular tragedy.

I remember when Romeo and Juliet came out. Overnight every girl had traded in her dolphin, gem encrusted and acid-trip rainbow Lisa Frank folders for Leonardo Dicaprio Trapper Keepers. K-Mart could not keep posters of Leo on the shelf. Mothers were calling the principal to change the Sadie Hawkins dance to a costume theme. Seats on the bus were being taken by Romeo and Juliet backpacks. It was Hell.

Every man, even Jesus, should hate Leonardo DiCaprio. His career started out great, This Boy's Life, What's Eating Gilbert Grape, The Basketball Diaries but then he traded it all away to be a Faustian teen heartthrob and it started here, with Romeo and Juliet. He single handedly made every girl of my generation dissatisfied with “I think you're cute. Want to go to the mall?” Now, you had to marvel at a fish tank in some bizarre party, lock eyes with her across the room, profess your adulation in iambic pentameter and slide poetic notes inside her locker. The worst part, despite being 21 years old in the film, I have a hard time telling him apart from Juliet, Claire Danes, and if not for clever costumes I would have sworn both leads were androgynous.

Even though the leads are poorly cast for everyone but teenage girls, Mercutio, Harold Perrineau, and Tybalt, John Leguizamo, make it bearable for the rest of us. Mercutio is beyond sardonic, a cross dresser, a drug peddler and interesting to watch. He arrives dressed in a white, in drag, carrying party favors and invitations. At the Capulet's party, he leads a debauched cabaret. In the opening scene, Tybalt explodes a gas station and leads the Montague's on a high speed car chase through Verona. Leguizamo's voice is perfect, the venomous rasp of a smoker makes the title “Prince of Cats” a little less of a joke for a latino gang banger.

Their are some things that are witty, however. For example, “Sword” is the brand of pistol used by the Montagues and Capulets. The priest that agrees to marry teenagers a day after they've met has some ink and runs his own still. The Sycamore Grove where Romeo spends his time brooding is a theater by the beach. Although, someone needs to tell Baz that not everyone growing up in the 90's had attention deficit disorder. Most of his set was built from scratch, the resulting aesthetics make your eyes bleed. The colors are beautiful but it looks like he subcontracted a unicorn to come in and vomit rainbows everywhere after they finished construction.

I don't think this film has much to offer anyone outside the realm of teenage girl in the 90's. Which I believe makes it the opposite of Shakespeare. The whole point of Romeo and Juliet is that it is a universally understood story, the tragedy is relatable. Which means Shakespeare wasn't the focus, his story was just used as the glue to hold together the misfit tropes of the 90s. Even worse, this film isn't even useful to teenage girls outside of the 90's because the movie wasn't about Romeo and Juliet. It was about turning Leo in to a sex symbol and now he's pushing 40 and the cigarettes are starting to catch up with him.


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