Romeo and Juliet. The ultimate couple. They may have met a tragic, premature end, but their love story has lived on for centuries as a representation of true, unconditional love. Now, the timeless tale is the basis for the token rom-com of the summer movie season.
In “Letters to Juliet,” Amanda Seyfried plays Sophie, a hopeless romantic and a fact-checker for the New Yorker who longs to be a writer. Her overzealous fiancé Victor (Gael Garcia Bernal) is opening a new restaurant immediately after their wedding, so they decide to turn Victor’s business trip to Italy into an early honeymoon. But Victor’s passion for Sophie pales in comparison to his passion for Italian cuisine, and Sophie is left to sight-see on her own.
She visits the supposed location of Juliet’s house and stumbles upon her dream story, one she hopes will prove to her boss she has what it takes to be a journalist. Women from all over the world travel to Verona and leave letters for Juliet, asking her for advice about their love lives. A group of women, who have dubbed themselves the Secretaries of Juliet, answer every letter with a return address.
Sophie discovers a letter that has remained hidden for 50 years and sends its writer, Claire (Vanessa Redgrave), a reply, only to be met a week later by Claire’s angry grandson, Charlie (Christopher Egan). Claire has come to Italy to find her first true love, but Charlie is afraid she’ll end up with a broken heart and blames Sophie for encouraging her. Claire refuses to relent and invites Sophie to accompany them as they travel the Italian countryside in search of Claire’s long-lost love.
“Letters to Juliet” is filled with romantic clichés. The fiancé without one shred of a redeeming quality. The handsome newcomer who, despite being a bit antagonizing at first, melts the heroine’s neglected heart. There’s even a man who rides in on horseback. But the movie doesn’t try to be anything it’s not. Everyone involved knows it’s just a mushy, sappy, feel-good romance. And because of its lack of pretense, it manages to find a certain charm.
Sure it’s completely predictable, but one of the movie’s strengths is its ability to be engaging throughout nonetheless, due in large part to its leads.
Seyfried is a likable lead, and Egan is delightfully snarky. But Redgrave and her real-life husband, Franco Nero, steal the show. Redgrave’s Claire is the woman we hope to be one day — caring and carefree, having lived a long and happy life. But something is missing, and it’s easy to get caught up in her quest to find it.
The only off-putting element of the film was Bernal’s Victor. He’s supposed to be irritating. He’s supposed to be clueless. He’s supposed to be selfish. But after less than five minutes onscreen, I could barely stand to listen to another word of his overblown, hyperactive babble. He made it too easy for me to root for Charlie instead.
“Letters to Juliet” won’t be winning any Oscars. Heck, it probably won’t even be winning any MTV Movie Awards. But if a feel-good sap-fest is what you’re looking for, “Letters to Juliet” won’t disappoint.
The story is unoriginal, the dialogue is mediocre and the performances are decent. But as cheesy, clichéd rom-coms go, “Letters to Juliet” sweeps you off your feet.
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