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"R#J" asks what William Shakespeare intended when he wrote "Romeo and Juliet": What if the couple's relationship blossomed on Instagram?
OK, not exactly. But the creative gamble of Carey Williams' feature debut at Sundance Film Festival on Saturday night paid off anyway. The film mixes Shakespeare's famous text with modern colloquial text messages and is peppered with Instagram DMs, Lives and FaceTiming.
Led by a Black and Latino cast, the film artfully brings Shakespeare to mainstream audiences without being too earnest.
"It needed to be flipped on its head and it needed to just get a new life, and I think that we brought a new life to it with some new color, baby," Siddiq Saunderson, who plays Mercutio, said during a live Q&A after the film's premiere.
"I knew early on that I wanted to preserve the original text," Williams said. In post-production, they were able to play around with what platform would tell the story best in certain moments — i.e. if texting would be a better route to tell a specific scene. Audiences spend much of the film looking at social media in a screen-like format, along with traditional filmmaking. At one important point, Romeo and Juliet even send GIFs back and forth.
Camaron Engels, who plays Romeo, thinks the film will bring new love for Shakespeare — especially for kids who might get inspired, instead of doing what is typically set out for them based on the color of their skin.
"To be able to introduce that new language and to introduce some stories that are more authentic, I think it's going to be really dope for schools to introduce this," he said.
After all, the story is timeless. "They're kind of like the Adam and Eve of romance," Francesca Noel, who plays Juliet, said. "So it's always going to be something that people talk about."
We won't spoil the twist ending for you — but rest assured it's worth watching.
"We're upending a lot of things that were in the story before, why not go this further step?" Williams said.
More from Sundance: Sundance: 'Passing' star Tessa Thompson says her role 'terrified me every day'
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: R#J at Sundance is Shakespeare's 'Romeo and Juliet' meets Instagram