Let me tell you a story: a girl named Sophie travels to Verona, Italy with her fiance (an aspiring chef) to start a new life. Their relationship is in a rocky state, so she travels to a wishing wall where forlorn women write letters to Juliet (of Romeo & Juliet
fame) asking her to bless their relationships. Sophie finds a half-century-old letter written by a now-aged woman, detailing her failure to meet a lover whom she planned to elope with. Sophie writes a letter to the woman, who comes to Italy with her grandson Charlie, who's apparently rather upset with Sophie for riling up his elderly relative and inspiring false hopes of elderly love. Charlie and Grandmother attempt to hit the road to track down her long-lost lover; Sophie tags along. A series of comical mishaps occur, which give Sophie and Charlie a chance to get to know one another, and the slow flame of love is sparked. Sophie's problems with her fiance continue during all of this, pushing her further into Charlie's arms. Grandmother finds her long-lost love, sparks fly, everyone is happy, but Sophie has to return to her fiance! Charlie is devastated! Charlie rushes back to find the girl and she faces a difficult choice between her fiance and the man she's come to love, but Charlie wins in the end.
A confession: I wrote that paragraph before I ever saw Letters to Juliet
, and based it solely on the film's extremely revealing trailer. I didn't get everything right, of course, but up to the final line it's pretty accurate.
I feel a bit sorry for the marketers that had to sell this movie without being able to put Nicholas Sparks' name above the title, and I doubt this is a movie you really have to worry about spoilers for, but still, leaving a little mystery for the actual film would've been nice. But maybe giving away everything in the trailer is their new anti-piracy tactic or something; no need to download the movie if the marketers spoil you themselves. Luckily, now that you know most of the story, there's no need to actually pay money to subject yourself to this mediocre piece of filmmaking.
To call Letters to Juliet
a flawed movie would be a bit generous; it's poorly directed, poorly scored, and has a poor performance by Amanda Seyfried
at the heart of it; her emotions seem to vary between "I'm so happy that I'm about to cry" and "I'm upset and will look at the floor as if I'm about to cry", with nary a beat between the two. I honestly have never seen anyone more able, or willing, to make her eyes appear moist every time the camera's on her. She does, on occasion, convince you that she's feeling what her character feels, but these moments are unfortunately few and far between. Her counterpart, Christopher Egan
as Charlie, seems to be talented, although it's kind of tough to tell given his material; Charlie is portrayed as an almost irredeemable asshole for his first 20 minutes of screentime, which makes it difficult for us to feel anything for him later on when he turns on the charm and reveals that he does pro-bono law work for refugees seeking asylum and poor kids born with missing eyeballs, etc. It's difficult to know what he sees in Sophie, who genuinely seems to have little going for her except for her exceptional array of low-cut dresses, so their romance comes across as contrived. To make matters worse, her fiance (who's actually attempting to open a restaurant in New York and is in Italy to meet with suppliers) seems to be a nice guy; he's just a little more worried about actually getting his restaurant ready (a hellish, stressful job by all accounts) than he is with babying Sophie every day that they're in Italy together. So the movie gets a little credit for not making him out to be a bad guy; it's too bad the rest of Sophie's story doesn't live up to this admittedly meager touch.
The sole reason a movie fan might want to give this movie a look-see is Vanessa Redgrave
's performance as Claire. Redgrave is as vibrant as ever despite recently pushing past her 50th year making films, and her interpretation of Claire is effortlessly elegant. Almost too much so; she so easily outshines Egan and (especially) Seyfried that the film instantly seems to sag a little bit whenever she exits the scene to let them get to know each other. This could've very easily been a "sweet old grandmother" role, but Redgrave inhabits it with charm and a sense of delight that makes her performance one of the best I've seen this year, and the moment when she finally does meet up with her supposedly long-lost Lorenzo is genuinely touching. The movie also gets a few bonus points for actually following through with the 70-year-olds-fall-in-love-again plot; all too often the grandmothers in films like these are simply there to dispense sage advice and wistfully stare into the distance as they recall their husband lost in the war; it's just assumed that old widowed people are doomed to live a loveless existance, and it's good to see that trend turned on its head a bit.
It's too bad, then, that the rest of Letters To Juliet
is so thoroughly and unrelentingly bad. The first half-hour of the film, i.e. everything that happens before Redgrave appears, could've been switched with the intro to any given Hallmark Channel Original Movie and no one would've been the wiser. The score is especially noteworthy for its dive into cliche and music that overwhelms whatever moments grow naturally from the performances; the cues here are so obvious that they might have come from a children's movie. In more competent hands, you could have made a really good film around Redgrave's story; as it is, the Director's Cut of this movie should probably be about a half-hour long and simply cut out every moment where she isn't on-screen. That, at least, might be worth paying money to see; unfortunately Letters to Juliet
in its current form simply isn't.