REVIEW: Leading Ladies Lift Lovely Letters to Juliet

Movieline Score:

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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  • Morgo says:

    Wow I might actually go see this after all

  • bmcintire says:

    Redgrave had the same out-of-the-blue effect on me in the otherwise passable DEEP IMPACT. Devastating.
    Our greatest living actress, indeed.

  • noelle says:

    So, maybe now I don't need to be so sheepish about going to see this movie...

  • happygolucky says:

    Excellent review; I'll be looking for this.

  • Patrick McEvoy-Halston says:

    From a guy's perspective, it's not so much the eyes as it is the breasts -- of course the film didn't feel flat: not even Disney's Nine Old Men could have dreamed them up! Egan was too nice: caught in a film where the guy's dragging his gal all about the place is cause for divorce, but where "his" driving Daisy everywhere is gentlemanly and appropriate, if he didn't evidence some disgruntlement before the end, slobbering CALIBAN would have climbed that tree, not sweet Percival.
    Redgrave is living assurance that true love means a vineyard-owning, warm Italian, with gentle manners: As a grown-up still 15 year old who's moved on from ponies -- or Tony Stark, in regards to "melons" -- would say -- you just want one.

  • Patrick McEvoy-Halston says:

    Further, I'M a bit disgruntled that this film made losing your mom into a mercilessly effective bargaining-chip -- as if the romancing the self-abnegating knight bit wasn't enough to plot out how your man might be wholly owned.

  • Jell says:

    Does anyone else roll their eyes and skip to the next comment when they see a sentence that begins, 'From a guy's perspective..."?

  • hannes717 says:

    dear stephanie,
    are you out of your mind? i am a film critic in hamburg, germany, and in the last six months i haven't seen another film as bland, badly acted (sorry to disgress, but even by poor vanessa redgrave; all she does is stare into the middle ground with melancholy eyes) and badly photographed as this insipid travelogue. the last straw is that horrendeous blond actor (i try not to remember his name) who supposedly makes amanda seyfried swoon. i am a sucker for romantic love stories but this is ersatz at its worst, a waste of time and money, and as fake as can be... i used to have respect for your reviews, stephanie (on, even if our opinions differed), but to read this gushing review "worthy" of a 13 year old girl is really disappointing! Best, Hannes

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  • Nice Article, Very imformative, I look forward to reading more of your article ans I will check back often. Thanks.

  • It is a beautiful movie. It is timeless, clean!

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