LETTERS TO JULIET (2010)
Starring Amanda Seyfried, Christopher Egan, Vanessa Redgrave, Gael Garcia Bernal, Franco Nero, Oliver Platt, Luisa Ranieri, Marina Massironi, Lidia Biondi, Milena Vukotic and Luisa De Santis.
Screenplay by Jose Rivera and Tim Sullivan.
Directed by Gary Winick.
Distributed by Summit Entertainment. 105 minutes. Rated PG.
Lots of movie critics are decrying the death of the romantic comedy. I believe this concern is a bit overstated, though recent examples like When in Rome, What About the Morgans?, The Proposal, pretty much every movie Jennifer Aniston has made and all too many others do make one concerned about the genre’s state of health.
It is a difficult thing to pull off, but periodically a movie appears that makes you feel a measure of optimism for the art form.
Take Letters to Juliet.
This is not a perfect film by any stretch, but it is a very charming romantic comedy.
In fact, the movie stands head and shoulders over its competition for the simple reason that it is both romantic and funny. You would think this would be a dead giveaway, however distressingly few romantic comedies that come out these days are able to achieve both of these states. In fact, many don’t achieve either.
Letters to Juliet may fall into certain romantic comedy clichés and sometimes be a little hard to believe, but it takes a truly romantic situation, mixes in gorgeous lead characters, truly stunning settings and eternal love to create a frothy and beautiful love story.
Of course, the fact that the two lead characters are the second most interesting romantic relationship in the film may be considered a bit of a problem; however, it could also be considered a virtue. A movie that is willing to allow the most intriguing romantic thrust to belong to a couple of elderly people – and is willing to treat that romance as seriously as the couple does – is more interested in storytelling than focus groups. Letters to Juliet is more lovable for its determination to give this relationship gravity and import.
The main couple, on the other hand, does the old romantic comedy mating dance. They meet and it is hate at first sight. They are thrown together by chance and fight constantly, but they slowly let their guard down, eventually becoming friends and then falling for each other.
I’ve always wondered why in romantic-comedy land couples can’t just fall in love at first sight and actually acknowledge their feelings rather than fighting the mutual attraction. Love happens that way sometimes, you know. I mean, I get it from a scriptwriting angle, I guess. If there is no conflict, then there is no story.
However, if the same story is used every time, isn’t the lack of the same old conflicts actually a good thing? Besides, this film had lots of plot, so that the whole opposites attract bit just seems a slight distraction to the film’s better parts.
Amanda Seyfried plays Sophie, a beautiful magazine fact-checker who would rather be a writer but can’t get her editor to give her a chance. She is engaged to a gorgeous man who is more interested in opening his new Italian restaurant than he is in his fiancée. (Okay, yet more rom com clichés here, but it gets better…).
When the two go to Italy to check out some of his suppliers, he ends up leaving her alone, so she explores the lovely city of Verona – home to the classic lovers Romeo and Juliet. She stumbles upon the balcony which is supposed to be where the famous “Wherefore art thou Romeo…” soliloquy took place. For generations lovelorn women have come to the little courtyard and left notes to Juliet about their love lives. Then Sophie discovers the “secretaries of Juliet,” a group of local women who take down all the notes and reply to each one.
Sensing an interesting story, Sophie joins the group of ladies responding to the letters. Then she happens upon a 50-year-old letter stuck behind a rock, from a young British woman who was about to lose the love of her life rather than stand up to her parents. Sophie responds to the letter, never really expecting that it will get to the woman, but days later an aging British woman (Vanessa Redgrave) and her somewhat priggish-but-oh-so-cute grandson (Christopher Egan) arrive. Despite the grandson’s protestations, the group decides to travel the Italian countryside in search of the long-lost love.
Okay, yes, some of this is a little schmaltzy but the story is still surprisingly involving. Redgrave adds wonderful playfulness and joie de vivre to her character and Seyfried is a charming lead character. It’s all somewhat predictable, but in the pleasant, familiar, fulfilling way that a fine Italian meal is.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2010 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: July 4, 2010.