Carey Williams' film "R#J" is a modern retelling of "Romeo and Juliet."

Review: ‘R#J’ is the latest adaptation for the next generation

Take the classic Shakespearean tragedy about star-struck teenagers and in the 21st century give it the social media makeover it deserves. That’s what Carey Williams did and to say it was refreshing is an understatement.

Writer/director Carey Williams’s feature film R#J debuted on Saturday, Jan. 30 at Sundance Film Festival for the NEXT Competition. 

Synopsis of feature film, R#J

In fair Verona, a war as old as time is brewing between rival houses—but it’s being captured in a new way. Montague and Capulet Gen Zers are using their cell phones to document the eruptions of violence plaguing their communities. In the middle of it all, Romeo discovers Juliet’s artwork at a party, and the two inevitably fall in love. As tensions between their families escalate, the two plead for peace and desperately search for a way to escape their star-crossed destiny.

About Carey Williams

Carey Williams is a director bringing a unique and visually striking cinematic eye to the exploration of the human condition. He recently completed his feature debut, R#J, a modern retelling of Shakespeare’s classic play, Romeo and Juliet. Williams returns to Sundance Film Festival. He previously screened a short film, Emergency, back in 2018.

Warning: Minor spoilers ahead.

Read our review of R#J

A fascinating introduction to Shakespeare for the next generation

R#J combines the story of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and interweaves in modern vernacular, social media interfaces, and the hippest music. Not to mention the film stars a diverse cast of Black and Latino actors. More viewers are yearning to see more diverse faces on TV and cinema. It’s wonderful to see Camaron Engels (who plays Romeo) and Francesca Noel (who plays Juliet) play historically white characters. The next generation has yet another adaptation of Romeo and Juliet to consume and they’ll surely enjoy Williams’ ambitious retelling.

The social media lens

Camaron Engels and Francesca Noel as Romeo and Juliet in Carey Williams’ adaptation R#J / Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute

Watching R#J reminded me of an episode of ABC’s family comedy Modern Family where Claire Dunphy FaceTimed with her family on her laptop. The entire episode was shot in FaceTime. But Williams takes it a step further: In the opening scene, Romeo posts an Instagram Story of the scenic beaches at Verona. But Instagram isn’t the only product placement (if you can even call it that?). Williams also incorporated FaceTime, Twitter, Spotify, YouTube, and TikTok. 

The film also felt almost like a documentary; the scenes were so intimate. When you already know the story of Romeo and Juliet, you can step back and truly appreciate the technical and conceptual directions and decisions Williams and his team made. 

Juliet is perfection in R#J

I immediately fell for Juliet when we learned that she’s a huge fan of Junji Ito, the award-winning Japanese horror mangaka. It made so much sense and it fits her emo vibes. This “newer” version of Juliet presents her as a very relatable geek gal. I dug it! Francesca Noel also performed beautifully as Juliet. 

Conclusion

For a timeless story with more adaptations than we can count, Carey Williams’ adaptation is a must-watch.

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Featured image credit: Interface Films

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