Rosaline is a mysterious character in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. She’s never seen, but is mentioned often by Romeo and his friends as the object of his affection before meeting Juliet. He only comes across Juliet at the Capulet ball because he’s there trying to see Rosaline. She stands to show that despite the character’s reputation as romantic, he’s actually rather fickle as he transfers his affections so quickly.
Karen Maine’s Rosaline examines the events of Shakespeare’s classic play from her titular character’s perspective. Loosely based on the 2012 young adult novel When You Were Mine by Rebecca Serle, the screenplay by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber positions Rosaline (Kaitlyn Dever) as its heroine. The film opens with a balcony tryst between Romeo (Kyle Allen) and Rosaline, who are in love in that shallow way that teenagers often are.
Rosaline is not content with her lot in life. She wishes to read what she wants to and pursue a career as a cartographer, not get married off like her older sisters. Her nurse (Minnie Driver) is happy to indulge her sneaking around as long as she doesn’t get caught, but her father (Bradley Whitford) is eager to find her a husband. But Rosaline scares off her suitors and continues her relationship with Romeo, partially enamored with the thrill of keeping it a secret.
When a boating mishap with her latest suitor, a soldier who has recently returned from war named Dario (Sean Teale), causes Rosaline to miss the masquerade ball that she invited Romeo to, disaster strikes in the form of her beautiful cousin Juliet (Isabela Merced). She’s just returned from finishing school and Rosaline is stuck babysitting the younger, innocent girl even as she’s mourning the loss of Romeo’s attention. She takes her to a dive bar and urges her to refuse Romeo, but comes to genuinely admire Juliet’s intelligence and talent.
Rosaline pulls her suitor Dario into her escapades of trying to break up the romance between her cousin and the Heath Ledger-look alike Romeo. Along the way, her annoyance fades into something more tender as she discovers that Dario is actually rather dashing – and can sword fight and is distractingly hot without a shirt. Dever and Teale’s chemistry makes the enemies-to-lovers plot line perhaps the best part of the movie.
Rosaline takes a cheeky approach to its source material and isn’t afraid to change it up in a way that will delight both fans of and strangers to Shakespeare. The script mixes Shakespeare and modern language, with Lord Capulet at one point insisting it’s time to “make this city great again.” Juliet’s suitor Paris (Spencer Stevenson) is now Rosaline’s gay best friend, trying to marry her cousin to keep her away from Romeo. Sometimes, the film feels like it’s trying too hard with its jokes and occasionally they don’t land, but it’s worth it to hear Rosaline call Juliet’s plan to fake her own death “the dumbest fucking thing.”
The lavish production design and great needle drops (there’s even a Taylor Swift song in the credits, though not the one you would expect) elevate this above your average young adult rom-com. But the star of it is Dever, who makes for an incredibly engaging main character. As Rosaline, she has the same combination of pluck and vulnerability that she brought to roles in Booksmart and Laggies. It’s easy to root for her, despite seeing that Romeo is not worth fighting for, and the moments with Whitford as her father are touching.
Rosaline is much better than the similarly titled Ophelia that came out in 2018, partially because it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Dever is delightful in the lead role and even though it trends too far into a sort of girl-boss-feminism at times – stressing that Rosaline is different from other girls because she wants a career and her father lets her speak at the dinner table – it’s a fun exploration of one of Shakespeare’s most-forgotten characters. Rosaline is a fun exploration of young love in all its fickleness and an unexpectedly warm coming-of-age story.
Rosaline will stream exclusively on Hulu beginning October 14.
Photo by Moris Puccio/20th Century Studios