Hulu's Rosaline Review: A Witty Romeo & Juliet Parody, With Predictability That Is Such Sweet Sorrow

Say hello to Romeo’s ex.

Isabela Merced and Kaitlyn Dever as Juliet and Rosaline
(Image: © 20th Century Studios)

Being the legendary story it is, Romeo & Juliet will always inspire creatives to revive it from different angles. In the instance of director Karen Maine’ Rosaline, the beloved tragedy flips the tone upside down to become a comedy. If you’re an eagle-eyed Shakespeare fan, you’ll know that Rosaline is a character in the original play who is only briefly mentioned as Romeo’s love before he gets heart eyes for Juliet. With that detail in mind, the Hulu release has an intriguing setup: What if your ex left you to be part of the most famous love story ever told? 

As fun of an exercise in storytelling Rosaline can be, Romeo & Juliet is too rough of a climb for her. Who can beat the irony of teenagers who fall deeply in love with one another despite being from warring houses only to kill themselves over their star-crossed intensity? This vengeful ex sure isn't trying to. Even so, Kaitlyn Dever’s fierce and witty charms as Rosaline bring something new to a William Shakespeare classic; it’s just too bad the script falls over some tropes a tad too hard. 

Rosaline’s perspective shift is a clever way to retell Romeo & Juliet.

Karen Maine’s third directorial effort after 2019’s Yes, God, Yes and BBC series Starstruck starts with Dever’s titular Rosaline, who is secretly dating Romeo (Kyle Allen) as her father (Bradley Whitford) continues to set her up with husband prospects she’s just not into. Romeo love bombs his way into Rosaline’s affections, as this take imagines him as a foolish romantic with the emotional attention span of a goldfish. Good stuff. 

Rosaline also has some amusing takes on the story, throwing out most of the Shakespearean speak in hopes of reminding us that Romeo & Juliet at its heart is more accessible and hip than its old timey text. Rosaline herself is especially entertaining, playfully calling out all the patriarchy of the Renaissance era – a time when she’d be nearly too old to marry and is looked down upon for speaking at the table or aspiring to be a traveler. In this light, Rosaline has a fresh perspective with a modern eye we’ve seldom seen from Shakespeare adaptations, especially because Rosaline is the kind of underdog character we're curious to see move from the background to center stage from the start. 

The comedy and plot decisions are rather hit and miss. 

However, Rosaline’s smart setup has a glow that wears off too early in the movie. Once a couple more elements are introduced into the story, the holes in the concept become quickly evident and the decisions are too often safe . With that, the rest of Rosaline is caught between living up to the project's fun ambition and falling super flat. 

One major plot point early in the movie is Rosaline finding out that her Romeo has met Juliet, who is her cousin all grown up, and finding ways to quietly sabotage their romance. It feels as though Rosaline misses many ample opportunities to involve the Romeo & Juliet story in more constructive ways. Many scenes that crossover the main story to hers are just ridiculous and don’t work organically. It feels too purposefully inserted and is likely to take viewers out of buying into Rosaline’s vengeance. 

On the other hand, there’s some highlights of comedy here too, especially for fans of the Shakespearian tragedy. Minnie Driver as The Nurse especially stands out. The movie’s modern perspective in a Renaissance setting opens the door for funny quips, such as Rosaline bringing in a violinist to play sad music on repeat in her room for her as she processes her heartbreak. Though, the tone has an immaturity to it that offers a way heavier dose of parody than heart. 

Rosaline follows a formula for old timey stories that’s beginning to grow old. 

There’s a familiarity in Rosaline we’ve been seeing a lot lately too. Whether it be in Bridgerton, Dickinson or The Great, there's been a lot of effort recently to make period stories cool and feminist, and yes, a lot of times it’s been an inspired way to go – but for some reason, this time around it felt forced. As string instruments play “Dancing On My Own” during the masquerade ball, there's a déjà vu about Rosaline that one doesn’t want to find themselves feeling while trying to be immersed. 

As it turns out, Rosaline truly is the other woman to Romeo & Juliet. Nitpicks and disappointments aside, Rosaline is an enjoyable mix of cleverness and tomfoolery to stream, especially if you’re a Shakespeare fan looking to see a classic tragedy get a modern spoof. 

Sarah El-Mahmoud
Staff Writer

YA genre tribute. Horror May Queen. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.