The latest movie featuring Amanda Seyfried, letter writing, and a choice between two handsome men doesn’t deliver any surprises, but at least Letters to Juliet gives its target audience — presumably, the same sort of weepy chicks who would ask a teenaged Juliet Capulet for advice — what they came to see (unlike this weekend’s Robin Hood). To be certain, anyone who’s seen the trailer for Letters to Juliet yet still wants to sign on for the 101-minute version clearly doesn’t mind leaving the reality of romance behind, so let’s dispense with the formalities and get down to it.
Romantic heroine Sophie (Seyfried) leads a rather charmed existence as an inexplicably well-to-do fact checker for the New Yorker. Of course, she’d like to be a real writer but possesses no impetus to follow this passion. As the movie opens, she and her fiancé, Victor (Gael Garcia Bernal, amusingly manic), jet off to Verona, Italy for a “pre-honeymoon” trip, which Sophie justifies under the logic that there just won’t be time for a real honeymoon after the marriage. Thing is, this guy is about to open up his own upscale Italian restaurant, so he conveniently decides to turn their vacation into a work trip. Naturally, Sophie still wants to marry Victor even though he’s got absolutely no interest whatsoever in her as a person, nor does he care about her work or desires. So, while Victor’s traipsing off to wine auctions and orgasming upon the perfect truffle, Sophie merely sighs and decides to find something about which to write. After all life is perfect even though she and her fiancé have nothing in common besides good looks and massively huge craniums.
Seriously, those two possess some righeously gigantic heads. A freakshow wouldn’t be entirely out of the question, but that’s beyond the scope of this little movie.
While in Verona and sightseeing on her own, Sophie happens upon the House of Giulietta, where sobbing women leave letters asking Shakespeare’s Juliet for advice, and Sophie spends a few days helping the Secretaries of Juliet, who work for the city of Verona and answer every single anguished soul who leaves a lovelorn letter on the courtyard wall. During her tenure with the sisters of sappiness, Sophie finds a 50-year old letter inside the wall and decides to answer it by telling the woman to pursue that Italian lover she left behind in favor of returning to England. A few days later, that woman, an elderly widow named Claire (Vanessa Redgrave), shows up with her concerned grandson Charlie (Christopher Egan), who is determined not to let his 65-year old gran’s high hopes end in tragedy. Since Sophie has nothing better to do anyway, she begs to help Claire look for this past lover. And even though Charlie finds the young American’s vocabulary (she uses “omigod” and “awesome” in the same sentence) to be inherently repulsive, he begrudgingly allows Sophie to join the search for Lorenzo Bartolinis. After driving across a series of Tuscan landscapes and witnessing over 70 different Lorenzo Bartolinis in their pathetic attempts to convince Claire to end her search with them, Sophie and Charlie begin to fall for one another for no real reason at all. How romantic.
Of course, the young couple’s budding love is complicated by the absent fiancé, and Sophie goes through the obligatory soul searching that any sane person wouldn’t bother with if their fiancé deserted them for several days during what was supposed to be a romantic vacation. Naturally, Sophie has never been bothered by Victor’s glaringly obvious faults until someone better came along. Then again, Sophie is merely falling in love with the fact that Charlie (after he stops being a douchebag) compliments her writing and shows genuine interest. In short, she’s falling in love with herself, but this movie doesn’t think past the credits or focus on anything but getting the two couples to declare their undying love. End of story. The story carries no illusions or curveballs, and all outcomes are apparent by the end of the first act (and even in the film’s trailer). However, much to my own personal amusement, a young girl (who looked to be about 8 years old) seated a few rows ahead of me stated (quite loudly and much to the chagrin of several female audience members) at the 30-minute mark: “She’s gonna dump that brown-haired guy and go date that blonde guy, I just know it.”) Yes, it’s just that simple, yet somehow director Gary Winick (Bride Wars) drags things out for another 71 minutes.
In short, this movie is largely a waste of time and patience with no substantial payoff; yet Letters to Juliet is impossible to hate due to the presence of Vanessa Redgrave, who — regardless of whether or not a picture deserves it — elevates nearly any project in which she appears. And since the prospective enjoyment of this film has everything to do with wanting to lose oneself in someone else’s happiness and nothing to do with wondering which man Sophie will choose or whether Claire will find the correct Lorenzo, it must be mentioned that actor Franco Nero plays Lorenzo. Nero, of course, is not only Redgrave’s current husband but also her former lost love of sorts. So, the movie’s got that bit of stunt casting going for it as well.
Otherwise, Letters to Juliet is so sickingly sweet that it could kill a type-2 diabetic on contact. At the same time, the so-called romance between Sophie and Charlie is about as sexy as a broken condom, which isn’t even an appropriate metaphor since the two don’t demonstrate any physical affection other than chaste kisses. As a character, Charlie is a faint echo of the of archetype Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pride and Prejudice and superficially much closer (as a snooty barrister and unlikely amnesty advocate) to Mark Darcy of Bridget Jones’s Diary, yet Charlie lacks the vague sexual undercurrent of his predecessors. Then again, Sophie wasn’t exactly getting that vibe from Victor either, who probably only makes love American Pie style to fresh lasagna. Seyfried, who is drop-dead pretty but not in a threatening way, works well enough in the role and is certainly preferable to Katherine Heigl or Jennifer Aniston as a romantic lead, but she shares no chemistry with her male costars (which is an utter crime for those familiar with Bernal’s, uh, previous works). In fact, the most erotic moment in the movie comes when Claire takes a hairbrush to Sophie’s freshly-showered hair in an inexplicably luxurious hotel room. Again, Redgrave shines through the material and seemingly defies the rote script, poorly-paced direction and stock-looking cinematography of the movie. Few actors can surpass such drivel, which makes this a semi-worthy DVD rental but nothing more.
Agent Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She and her little black heart can be found at agentbedhead.com.