The character Rosaline is barely a footnote in the world of Shakespeare: Early in Romeo and Juliet, the ill-fated Montague swain cites Rosaline as his true love, but she has rebuffed him. She’s a Capulet, a member of the Montagues’ enemy clan, which is why he sneaks into a party hosted by the Capulets in the hopes of catching her eye. That’s the soirée at which he meets Juliet—Rosaline’s cousin—and the rest is history, as well as tragedy.
For Romeo, Rosaline is just a set of pre-Juliet training wheels; for Shakespeare, she was a useful device, a specter summoned briefly and then discarded. For centuries she was but a tiny asteroid in the Shakespearean cosmos; only fairly recently has she surfaced as a major character in books, movies, plays and TV shows. And now she has a romantic comedy of her own. In Rosaline, directed by Karen Maine (Yes, God, Yes), Kaitlyn Dever plays the woman who was probably second fairest in all Verona. Her Rosaline is a smart and somewhat spiky young woman who longs to become a cartographer, though her father, Adrian Capulet (Bradley Whitford), hopes to marry her off to a rich oldie. She recoils at the thought, not only because she wants control over her own destiny, but because she’s already secretly in love with Romeo (the delightfully goofy Kyle Allen), who has been visiting her on the sly. There’s a big masked ball coming up; she’s eager to dance the night away with him. But it turns out daddy Capulet has fixed her up with a well-off lad, Dario (Sean Teale)—and she’s expected to go on a date with him that very evening. And so Dario, almost criminally handsome and intrigued by Rosaline but hardly desperate to own her, takes her for a ride on his boat. They get stuck in a rainstorm, and by the time Rosaline makes it to the party, Romeo has already gone off to woo his new love from beneath a balcony.
Naturally, Rosaline is none too pleased, and she begins scheming ways to pry Romeo away from her sweet—but not pushover-sweet—cousin Juliet (Isabela Merced). She enlists the help of her gay bestie Paris (Spencer Stevenson), persuading him to proffer himself as a husband to Juliet. (He reluctantly complies, though he’d much rather be trying on puffy medieval hats in Rosaline’s bedroom.)
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And then there’s the problem of Dario, who expresses polite interest in Rosaline, only to be pushed away—until she realizes, long after you and I do, that he’s exactly the right guy for her. (Her loyal nurse, played with elan by Minnie Driver, helps her see the light.) You can predict many of the beats in Rosaline—which was adapted from Rebecca Serle’s novel When You Were Mine—but that’s part of the fun. The picture is frisky and casual; it doesn’t try to be something it’s not. Some of the costumes are lovely, fantasies in supple leather or pleated velvet, and others look as if they’ve been constructed from upholstery material, but the illusion is satisfying nonetheless. The interiors, with their faded-flora wallpaper and billowy embroidered curtains, have a softly glowing, Vermeer-like quality. And Dever and Teale are charming together: Rosaline bristles at the idea of being “bought” as a bride for any amount; Dario has to break it to her that the price for her hand in marriage is a single cow. Their sparring has a pleasing crackle, and when they finally arrive on the same page, they’re able to engineer a double happy ending, one for themselves and another for that other, would-be star-crossed couple. Still, you come away knowing who got the better deal in this particular alternate reality. And “Rosaline and Dario” does have a pretty nice ring to it.
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