A nearly verbatim rendition of Romeo and Juliet set at a high school military academy, Private Romeo feels more like a side project from the producers of Glee than some kind of novel queering of Shakespeare’s text. Unlike Glee, however, it is sameness that interests the film: the sameness of gender-conformant masculinity that, in simply rerouting its gaze toward an exterior version of its own self, manages to keep a safe distance from anything remotely feminine. Here Romeo (Seth Numrich) and Juliet (Matt Doyle) are both comely and beer-drinking jocks reciting the Shakespearian epic to each other in locker rooms, parking garages, and basketball courts. They are surrounded by other manly jocks who sometimes interact with the couple’s citational drama, but mostly stay in the background playing cards and paying little attention to the ghostly theater that surrounds them.
Romeo and Juliet are interchangeable doubles reveling in the erotic, but mostly narcissistic, possibilities of the military academy, where the fantasy of air-tight homogeneity is nothing short of literal. When the lovers finally kiss, or when they cuddle under the sheets, it’s hard to tell Capulets from Montagues. Perhaps that’s precisely the point, but for a story about passionate love in its most delusional proportion, Private Romeo is decidedly sterile.
The non-Shakespearian dialogue is unfortunately kept to a minimum. The most interesting moments in the film are when it allows for Shakespeare to simply haunt the film as opposed to taking it over so blatantly; in scenes when the boys briefly face the camera as if it were a webcam and lip-sync in their dorm room, it’s as though they’re Skyping the audience. The film inherits a certain American tradition of confusing youthful naïveté with passion in its rawest form (the non-gauche white boy who smiles and reconnects with another white boy who looks just like himself) as if that youthful naiveté weren’t so obviously ersatz in the first place. There’s also the obnoxious piano notes that come in to blanket any scene of intimacy with a sense of non-corporeal “decency.”