Amanda Seyfried as Sophie
Chris Egan as Charlie Wyman
Vanessa Redgrave as Claire
Franco Nero as Lorenzo Bartolini
Gael García Bernal as Victor
Lidia Biondi as Donatella
Daniel Baldock as Lorenzo
Milena Vukotic as Maria
Luisa Ranieri as Secretary
Marina Massironi as Francesca
It seems like there are only a handful of careers open to the female of romantic comedies: writer, editor, fashion designer, maybe a songwriter or painter. Sometimes. It’s because the movies these characters appear in are fantasies, which is fine as far as it goes, but it also usually means the stories they appear in have been designed to work as vehicles for a fantasy, not as a workable narrative. It doesn’t mean it can never work, but you can still take it as a useful rule of thumb that a movie where the main character is one of these simply isn’t serious.
Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) is a writer, or at least she wants to be. At the moment she has to ‘settle’ for being a fact-checker at the New Yorker until she can work up the gumption to push a story of her own. A story she seems to stumble on while on a pre-Honeymoon in Verona she discovers the wall of Romeo’s Juliet covered with letters from the love lorn, including one that is nearly 50 years old.
So, we know “Letters to Juliet” isn’t serious, but that’s okay. Light fantasy can entertaining enough and if it’s going to be a little clichéd that doesn’t mean it necessarily has to be bad. It just puts a ceiling on how good it can be. If there’s not likely to be much in the way of character development at least there’s the possibility of wit or humor. Probably angst too, but that’s factored into the price of doing business.
Trying to figure out whether the fact her fiancé Victor (Gael García Bernal) keeps forgetting her in his excitement over the restaurant he is opening is a bad omen (she’s not the sharpest tool in the shed), Sophie decides to answer the old love letter and send it on its way. When it is answered back in the form of its author (Vanessa Redgrave) and her handsome grandson (Chris Egan) she realizes she has her story at last, and so do we as she tags along with them looking for Claire’s long lost Italian love.
It’s a story about second chances and following your feelings and love at first sight and all the other stuff you expect from this kind of film. This would all be bearable if it were about 30 minutes shorter. Unfortunately the filmmakers have decided to draw out the end of the movie far after the climax has come and gone. They think they’re drawing out the dramatic tension in doing so, but that’s just because they don’t really know what they’re doing.
As they drive through the Italian countryside looking for Claire’s long lost Lorenzo (it turns out there’s a lot of them), she begins to gradually get over her initial distaste for Charlie (sign number 1!) long enough to find out that he’s a lawyer working pro bono for refugees (sign number 2!) and wonder why Victor seems okay with never spending any time with her (sign number 3!). And then she keeps thinking about it, and thinking about it, and returning to New York and thinking about it some more.
Maybe it would be more realistic if the characters were more fleshed out to the point there was some actual conflict involved in the decision Sophie’s got to make. But there’s not. “Letters to Juliet” is too simple for that sort of thing. The best that can be said is that Victor’s not some sort of cad, it’s more just a matter of Sophie not wanting to admit that he is the kind of person he is.
But that’s about as complex as it gets and even for people who like this sort of thing that’s probably not enough considering how long you have to wait for the inevitable. Tension is all well and good, but when your audience has gotten somewhere an hour before you; you’re just wasting everyone’s time.
Pretty much the only reason to give “Letters to Juliet” the time of day is Vanessa Redgrave. Every scene with her is a joy, but she also unfortunately and consistently reminds you how lacking her young co-stars are.
If you’re in the mood for some school-girl daydream fairytale, “Letters to Juliet” about fits the bill, but even fans of this sort of thing are likely to find themselves short of patience well before the end.