Kaitlyn Dever and Kyle Allen in “Rosaline.” Image courtesy of Disney.

“My type is not a shrew.” 

This is what Dario (Sean Teale) says to Rosaline (Kaitlyn Dever) as they take a less-than-cordial carriage ride together down a tree-lined lane – she answers this quip with a rather undignified, “Blow me.” 

Politeness aside, the two might end up betrothed – and while Dario is a good bit more handsome than the other suitors Rosaline’s father (Bradley Whitford) has paraded in front of her, there’s still one small problem. You see, Rosaline Capulet already has a boyfriend – his name is Romeo Montague (Kyle Allen). Now, Rosaline has to find some way out of this date with Dario so she can make it to the masked ball where she promised she would meet Romeo tonight. It’s imperative that she’s not late. After all, what if he were to meet someone else? 

Rosaline barely gets a mention in William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” before the titular lover boy finds his star-crossed companion. But director Karen Maine’s new film “Rosaline” explores the story within the footnote, focusing on Romeo’s jilted ex and her struggle to win back the so-called love of her life from her cousin Juliet (Isabela Merced). Amid warring families, half-baked marriage plots, and a handsome suitor who keeps popping up at inopportune moments, what’s a girl to do? 

“Rosaline” pays homage to the great teen Shakespeare adaptations of the 1990s and 2000s, feeling especially in homage to 1999’s “10 Things I Hate About You,” based on the bard’s “The Taming of the Shrew.” Rosaline herself feels reminiscent of the latter’s Kat Stratford (Julia Stiles), and not just because of Dario’s comment about shrews. Like Kat, Rosaline has a cutting sense of humor, she’s progessive, and she longs for adventure … but adventure for what, exactly? 

“Rosaline” is a perfectly fun film, and can be sharp in execution when it wants to be. But as much as Rosaline exudes wit and rebellion at every turn, the character lacks the depth that makes a Kat Stratford live on in the cultural lexicon. Dever delivers a charming performance, but she can only do so much with a character that has no inner life to spare. 

“Rosaline” takes a similar approach to this year’s “Persuasion,” taking place in the past, but mostly foregoing the text’s original language in favor of modern dialogue and sensibilities. While in “Persuasion,” the updated text removes nuance and depth from the story’s emotional core, the device mostly works well in “Rosaline.” “Romeo and Juliet” is already a little better suited to modern teenage parlance than “Persuasion” – a melancholy story about lost love and second chances, and decidedly not about teenagers – but “Rosaline” is smart in its approach. Screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber seem less interested in retelling “Romeo and Juliet” with a modern twist than using a modernized approach to spin the bard’s tale around in clever ways. Part of the way they achieve this is not ridding the film of Shakespeare’s words entirely. 

When we first see Romeo and Rosaline together, we’re treated to a version of the famous balcony scene, complete with Romeo’s utterance of that famous line, “Forswear it, sight, I never saw true beauty until this night.” Knowing what we do – that Romeo will soon use this line on another woman while standing on another balcony just a few nights later – changes our perception of the famous character and his romantic image. 

While the idea of Romeo using the same pick-up lines over and over again is funny, it does call into question Rosaline’s attraction to him in the first place, as well as Rosaline’s inner motivations writ large. Dever delivers on the quirky charisma these leading ladies often have, but there’s not much on the page that digs past Rosaline’s likable surface. We’re told she’s ambitious, but beyond a throw-away line about wanting to be a cartographer, we never see her engaging with those ambitions. We’re told she’s adventurous, but for some reason she wants to marry Romeo, who makes no secret of the fact that he’s interested in a normal, domestic life.

In “10 Things About You,” the more we learn about Kat and the more we understand about her relationships and her past, the more we realize why she is the way she is. In “Rosaline,” our heroine talks a big game,  but what little we learn about her contradicts that sly, cutting pesona. Dever has previously proven herself quite adept at playing complex and layered teen characters, whether it be in comedies like “Booksmart” or crime shows like “Unbelievable.” It’s disappointing that this script doesn’t rise to her level. 

What makes a character like Kat Stratford beloved is not that she’s more interested in school than boys, or that she has a caustic wit that screams, “I’m not like other girls.” Those are manifestations of a deeper character – it’s not the what that makes us love Kat, but the why. “Rosaline” lacks the why, making it purely an imitation. A good and at times charming imitation, but still just that.

Sammie Purcell

Sammie Purcell is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers.