‘Rosaline:’ The other woman in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ 

Everyone and their mother knows the story of “Romeo and Juliet.” It is a tale as old as time, with so many adaptations that high school English teachers everywhere are set for life. However, less talked about is the history of these star crossed lovers — more specifically, the woman Romeo pursued before Juliet: Rosaline.

With Valentine’s Day approaching, I knew I wanted to discuss a movie, but I also knew I could not review a classic romance film. Partly because I rely on humor as a stylistic device when writing these articles, but also because I know you do not want to sit through that — that would be uncomfortable for both of us, and I do have self-awareness.

So, imagine my genuine glee upon finding the perfect film to review: “A comedic retelling of Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ told from the point of view of Romeo’s jilted ex, Rosaline, the woman Romeo first claims to love before he falls for Juliet.” (IMDb says it best.)

While “Rosaline” — based on the 2012 novel “When You Were Mine” by Rebecca Serle — is set in Renaissance Italy, the story is told through a modern lens with its anachronistic language and soundtrack. The film follows the overlooked character from Shakespeare’s original play as she tackles themes involving feminism, internalized misogyny, insincere men and painfully stupid fake death tropes. 

Also, imagine how fated this film felt when I found out Kaitlyn Dever would be playing the title character — also known as my favorite part of 2019’s “Booksmart” and my comedy queen. Nico Hiraga also had a cameo as douchey, west coast skater bro “Steve the Courier,” which did give me major “Booksmart” reunion feels.

From the moment the favorite song of any 90s rom-com, “This Will Be (An Everlasting Love),” started playing during the title card — only to be abruptly cut off by Minnie Driver entering Rosaline’s bed chambers as the utterly-over-it nurse — the tone of this film was perfectly set.

The script — written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, the writing duo behind 2009’s “500 Day of Summer” — is sharply funny, with Dever showing her mastery of comedic timing in subtle under-her-breath moments.

The best way to encapsulate this film’s comedic style is the scene where Romeo starts speaking in the form of Shakespearian sonnets — a lá Leonardo DiCaprio in Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 adaptation — and is met with Rosaline uncomfortably asking him why he was talking like that. I need more people to put Dever in films where she can show off her naturally deadpan sarcastic humor.

Director Karen Maine showcased such a deep understanding of Rosaline as a character, with all of her recognized flaws and justified ambitions. Maine’s directing style gave the film the grounded-ness required for a comedy like this to work, and also appreciated the many facets of Dever that make her so magnetic onscreen. The film does not simply rely on quippy jokes, but displays a real understanding of physical comedy that adds so much to the experience.

In the end, Romeo and Juliet sail off into the sunset — only to realize that they have literally nothing in common. Meanwhile, Rosaline ends up with fellow sarcastic yet empathetic, ultimate dream bae Dario — who she initially wrote off too soon earlier in the film. 

The film’s tone carries through to the very end, wrapping up with the perfect lines:

“Well, I’ll never forget you, Rosaline.”

“Back at you, Romeo. It’s been real.”

Rating: ⅘ stars