REVIEW: Leading Ladies Lift Lovely Letters to Juliet
Gary Winick's Letters to Juliet is such a gentle romantic comedy that it barely feels like a romantic comedy at all, at least not in the way we currently define the genre. There's no Amy Adams hilariously slipping through the mud in her high heels, no Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey uproariously pretending not to like each other as they traipse around some tropical island in their shorts, no dueling brides catfighting about who's going to have her dream wedding at the Plaza on a specific day. Letters to Juliet also has the distinction of featuring a marvelous performance from the woman who is, in my view, our greatest living actress.
And yet there were very few critics at one of the only New York press screenings of Letters to Juliet, which suggests to me that it's somehow viewed as disposable, a movie not worth bothering with. Their loss. If even half the movies coming out of Hollywood these days, regardless of the genre they fit into, were made with as much care and spirit as Winick and his cast have poured into Letters to Juliet, the current moviegoing landscape would be a much greener, happier place.
The plot of Letters to Juliet is the sort that generally gets the word "formulaic" slapped on it: Amanda Seyfried is Sophie, an aspiring writer who is, for now, toiling away as a fact checker at The New Yorker. (Her boss there, the big cheese, is played by Oliver Platt -- just call him Oliver Plattnick.) Sophie is engaged to be married to Victor (Gael Garcia Bernal), who's preoccupied with the restaurant he's about to open. The two have planned a pre-wedding pre-honeymoon to romantic Verona, Italy. But upon their arrival Victor, busy tasting cheese and buying wines at auction, proceeds to ignore her.
Sightseeing by herself, she makes her way to one of the city's landmarks, a house that might have belonged to Shakespeare's doomed heroine Juliet had she been a real person. To plenty of people, Juliet is real -- visitors, most of them women, pour their hearts out to her in hand-written letters, which they then place along the house's outer wall. At the end of each day the letters are collected and answered by a group of volunteers, Juliet's "secretaries" (played here by a four actresses who twinkle just enough, but not too much, including Luisa Ranieri).
After befriending these women, Sophie makes a discovery that could be the subject of her first big story: Hidden behind a loose brick in the wall, she finds a letter dated 1957, from an English girl who fears she's made a mistake by walking away from her young Italian lover. Sophie responds to the letter, and is astonished when a stuffy young English twerp, Charlie (Christopher Egan), shows up in Verona along with the writer of the letter, his grandmother Claire (Vanessa Redgrave), now a 70-something widow. Claire hopes to reconnect with her lost love, a guy named Lorenzo, and Charlie is none too pleased about it: He doesn't want to see his grandmother hurt or disappointed. Nonetheless, the three find themselves criss-crossing the Tuscan countryside in the hopes that Claire will find her Lorenzo, among the dozens of Lorenzos with the same surname who live in the area. Their search -- and Sophie's gradual realization that Charlie isn't such a dink after all -- constitutes the "formula" of Letters to Juliet.
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