Different takes on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet get made every single year, so it shouldn’t surprise us that our own local Afrikaans industry also decided to adapt this popular play. Except, unlike the classic play where the two star-crossed lovers die, this one takes its aim at the audience and makes us suffer instead.
Perhaps that was a little bit of a cruel introduction, but with the increasing maturity and growth of the local film industry and the number of high-quality films that are getting made, it’s sad to see a film essentially take a step back and revive the worst things about the local film industry – and indeed the Afrikaans film industry.
Jou Romeo follows the story of high school cricket superstar and most popular boy in school, Marco (Ruan Wessels) and drama geek Yvette (Elani Dekker). With the school finding huge success in their cricket team and with the principal’s biased love towards the sport, the drama department gets cut. Yvette and her friends hope to do a performance of Romeo and Juliet to the public, but with the budget cut, they now need to find another plan. That plan turns out to be Marko who in a desperate effort to improve his Math’s mark, seeks the help of Yvette to improve his grades. She sees the opportunity for a trade and offers to help him, if he is willing to be cast as Romeo in the school play, to help them sell tickets.
What was supposed to be an innocent joke to boost ticket sales and then swap him out with the actual Romeo they want gets complicated when he becomes more engrossed in the role than expected and they start to fall for each other. It’s essentially a double play on the Romeo and Juliet story, both in its appearance in the play and in its clash of two different types of people that aren’t supposed to be together. It’s been done before and is unbelievably predictable.
Predictability doesn’t make a film bad though. Jou Romeo’s biggest problem is that in its attempt to bring humour to the film, it creates incredibly exaggerated, single-noted and stereotypical characters. This is further pronounced by the slapstick directing of Andre Velts who ensures the film comes across as foolish and comical as possible, even when the script calls for some more sensitive handling. Indeed, some important moments in the movie are seemingly glossed over for the sake of keeping the film as lighthearted as possible.
The film, with its strong focus on social media trends of high school students, appears to be aimed more at young kids than soon-to-be adults, which makes its tone a little difficult to understand. Sure, it’s got the obligatory ‘sokkie treffers’ to appeal to a wide target market, but it’s hard to imagine that anyone will be able to see past the ridiculousness of it all.
The actors don’t do themselves any favours by playing along to the exaggerated nature of their characters by providing no form of subtlety or nuance to their roles and rather trying to generate comedy by over-committing to their characters. It would be endearing if it were funny. Sadly, the humour doesn’t come across well here. That the dialogue for most of the movie is incredibly cheesy is partly to blame. Indeed, the smartest parts of the script are when Shakespeare is being recited in the play.
There are also some incredibly strange decisions in the editing process where certain pivotal moments of the film are raced through with a contemporary song in the background that lose the moment and sully the climax of the film. That is not to say everything about the film is bad. The leads are both likeable and their onscreen chemistry, although awkward at first, actually plays off well in the end. Also, the upbeat nature of the film should appeal to you if you’re looking for something incredibly easy to view. Though I can think of many other movies to want to spend an evening viewing, even in the local scene.
In the end Jou Romeo does nothing to establish itself as a credible film in the industry. Many years ago, this would’ve been expected of an Afrikaans film, but with so many high-quality films coming out these days, this just seems amateurish in comparison. It will likely still be popular with a certain audience, but if you get put off by many traditional Afrikaans films and their characterizations, this is going to infuriate you.
Jou Romeo is out now on DVD.