With Amanda Seyfried, Vanessa Redgrave, Christopher Egan, Gael Garcia Bernal, Franco Nero. Directed by Gary Winick. Rated PG for brief rude behavior, some language and incidental smoking. 101 minutes.
There will be people who will thoroughly enjoy LETTERS TO JULIET. It’s got pretty people in pretty Italian locations and it’s all about “true love.” If you’re one of those people, enjoy it. Indeed, considering what a vacation in Verona would cost you’re probably coming out ahead of the deal.
Then there are those who want something beyond a paint-by-numbers romance/travelogue. They will be disappointed. We first meet Sophie working as a fact-checker for the New Yorker. What she really wants to do is to write and settle down with her boyfriend Victor (Gael Garcia Bernal). Unfortunately, Victor is more in love with his restaurant than the fact that Sophie is played by this year’s It Girl, Amanda Seyfried. (This is her third movie out this year, following “Dear John” and “Chloe.”)
While having a “pre-honeymoon” in Verona where Victor checks out the food instead of Sophie, she goes to the place where distraught lovers leave letters for Juliet, immortalized by Shakespeare. A group of Italian ladies known as “Secretaries of Juliet” answer these letters, and Sophie sees a story for her to write. Then she discovers a letter that had been stuck in the wall for half a century and the “Secretaries” insist she must answer it. Sophie does, reaching Claire (Vanessa Redgrave), a British widow who fifty years before ran away from her teenage Italian love because her parents would never approve. Sophie has advised her to follow her heart, and now Claire shows up looking for Lorenzo, her lost love.
Sophie and Claire meet and Claire agrees that Sophie can follow – and write about – her search, while Claire’s grandson Charlie (Christopher Egan) is so churlish you just know he and Sophie will fall in love. Then he reveals himself to be a sparkly vampire…
No, that last part doesn’t happen, but the rest of the movie is as contrived as anything in the “Twilight” series. Sophie, Charlie and Claire wander around greater Verona looking for Lorenzo without bothering to eliminate suspects on the basis of age. This leads to supposed hilarity until finally true love comes out for everyone. Unlike other recent sappy romances, no one has to die. Or, to be more accurate, everyone who needs to die to make the film’s two romances work out is already dead before the story begins. No deathbed scenes or memorial services here.
Indeed, the only one who suffers here – besides the reluctant moviegoer dragged into seeing this – is Victor, set up in a ridiculous role where he chooses to be ambitious rather than romantic, as if the two were mutually exclusive. He’s not a character, he’s a plot device who will have to be dealt with before true love can triumph. And what about the real Lorenzo? If you’ve seen the movie’s trailer you already know how it all turns out, including the casting of Franco Nero in the part.
No need to concern yourself with the acting. Everyone walks through their parts as if there was an actual story going on, and with some doubt about how it will all turn out. “Letters To Juliet” will send some hearts aflutter, and if that includes you, go and have a good time. For the rest of us, this is a letter that needed to be returned to sender. •••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being I’ll Have What She’s Having: Behind The Scenes Of The Great Romantic Comedies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.