The story of Romeo and Juliet is universally-known, having been adapted many times across the globe in the more than four hundred years since William Shakespeare first penned his famous play. Especially in recent years, there have been new and creative interpretations that put a different spin on the narrative, often transforming it from a tale of doomed romance into something more uplifting and inspiring. Hulu’s Rosaline takes a distinctly humorous approach, reframing the oft-told tale from the perspective of Romeo’s first love, Juliet’s cousin Rosaline.
Rosaline (Kaitlyn Dever) stands on her balcony every evening, hoping for a visit from her beloved Romeo (Kyle Allen). The two must meet in secret since Rosaline is a Capulet and Romeo is a Montague. Rosaline’s father, Friar Laurence (Bradley Whitford), perceives his daughter’s free spirit but still tries fruitlessly to marry her off. An introduction to Dario (Sean Teale) results in Rosaline missing a ball where Romeo meets and falls for Juliet (Isabela Merced). Furious that her lover would abandon her, Rosaline sets out to corrupt her cousin and win Romeo back for herself.
This film immediately establishes the tone of its universe, with Rosaline interrupting Romeo’s classical speech to ask why he’s talking in that way. It’s indicative of a generally casual demeanor for all the characters, particularly Rosaline, who exist in this antiquated world yet are still capable of forward-thinking modern sentiments. Characters do still present themselves as fanciful and elegant when speaking with others, but their personal motivations and the way that they comport themselves in private reveal a more relaxed and relatable nature to our present era.
Rosaline, which is based on the 2012 novel When You Were Mine by Rebecca Serle, comes from director Karen Maine, whose previous film, Yes, God, Yes, did a spectacular job of skewering religious sex education programs, and writing duo Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, who have collaborated on films such as 500 Days of Summer and The Disaster Artist. This is meant as a send-up of romantic dramas and comedies that presume that characters will conform to the expectations set by society, and it functions very well in that regard, telling a love story that doesn’t take a typical trajectory even though multiple moments throughout indicate that it might.
Its true success is due to Dever, who has already proven her comedic skills in Booksmart and turned in impressive dramatic performances in the limited series Unbelievable and Dopesick. Dever’s casting is perfect, and she is well aware of what the film wants to be. Her inability to truly play along with the absurdities of her time and those who populate it makes for great fun, and she brings a superb vindictive attitude to Rosaline, a character who usually takes only a minor role in the story of two others in love.
Dever is surrounded by a very capable cast, with Merced another wonderful standout, making Juliet smart and curious but unaware of much of what the world has to offer. Seeing her eyes opened by her older cousin is entertaining, though naturally their friendship can’t last because Rosaline’s deception will eventually be revealed. Teale is also endearing, showing up early on as a love interest for Rosaline who seems like a much better fit than the parade of older men she has been shown, and patient enough to wait for Rosaline to stop pining over Romeo to notice him. While Whitford makes no effort to infuse energy into his performance, it’s a treat to see Christopher McDonald buried under a large beard and much pomp and circumstance as Lord Capulet. Rosaline is enhanced by a buoyant score from married composers Ian Hultquist and Drum and Lace, yet another celebration of its sweet and surprising romantic nature.
Rosaline premieres on Hulu on Friday, October 14th.