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Letters to Juliet – movie review
Letters to Juliet is a movie for the romantics out there. It was exactly what it advertised itself as, and exactly what I hoped it would be: sweet, charming, and poignant. Considering how many movies have been disappointments this year, I was quite pleased to get a movie that delivered on its promises.
Amanda Seyfried starred as an American girl on a pre-marriage “honeymoon” in Verona with her fiance (Gael Garcia Bernal), who gets drawn into writing for the Secretaries of Juliet–women who reply to the letters left to Juliet beneath “her” balcony. Sophie stumbles onto a letter from 50 years ago and feels compelled to reply, only to have the woman herself (Claire, played by Vanessa Redgrave) and her grandson Charlie (Christopher Egan, whom I know and love from NBC’s short-lived Kings and who was half the reason I was so excited about this movie) come to Verona as soon as they receive the letter. Claire had been a student there for the summer who fell in love with a boy named Lorenzo, but instead of meeting him to run away together she went back to England. Now a widow, she received Sophie’s letter and decided she wants to find Lorenzo again. Sophie, abandoned by her fiance in favor of a wine auction and various vendors he wants to use for his new restaurant, decides to accompany Claire on a road trip around Tuscany to help her find her Lorenzo.
One thing I will say about this movie and its advertising–you shouldn’t go into the theater expecting to be surprised. They meet a lot of Lorenzo Bertolinis who aren’t Claire’s Lorenzo before they find him (not a spoiler because one of the previews showed that moment!), and there is an attraction between Sophie and Charlie that may be destiny or may be nothing more than the excitement and romance of such a journey. The only questions (and, no, I won’t answer them other than to say the movie does not end in tears) are whether the Lorenzo remembers Claire and whether Sophie and Charlie are really falling in love or just sharing an unforgettable experience.
As you might see from the premise, this is a movie with a cross-generational appeal. There were a lot of older couples in our theater. It’s one I will definitely show to my mom and grandmother, for the story as well as the lack of both raunch and slapstick. As far as romantic movies go, it’s not as totally unfriendly to men as most of them. Mine chuckled in a few places and came out giving it a grade of “it passes…barely” which is high praise for a romance. The views of the Italian countryside are sweeping and hazy and beautiful, and the story of Claire and Lorenzo is achingly sweet (and by far the more romantic of the two). Amanda Seyfried was charming and light, as she usually is, and Chris Egan was arrogant and stuffy but not far enough departed from David Shepherd to prevent me from worrying he might typecast himself. I hope he doesn’t, because I think he has serious star potential and want to keep seeing him in my movies for years to come. Vanessa Redgrave played Claire brilliantly, a woman who has lived her life without regrets, despite choices that might have been mistakes, and is now hoping to have one more adventure despite her gray hair and age-earned dignity.
Some of the funniest moments in the film were the interplay between Claire and Sophie having “girl talk” and Charlie being uncomfortable with it. “My grandfather was her soul mate, and thank you for trying to invalidate my entire existence!” he exclaims at one point, and at another he has to leave the conversation because he can’t listen to his grandmother recalling the romance and sensuality of her summer with Lorenzo. The other amusing moments came from some of the different Lorenzos they met along the way. A few were sad, forgetful old men in homes or even in one case a recent grave, but others were hilarious–the one whose wife tells Claire to “take him!” for example, and the one who answers the question of “what were you doing the summer of 1957?” with a tirade about how he met his wife that horrible summer and curses them for reminding him of that terrible occasion.
If I wanted to be really picky I could find two flaws: one, there is very little reason given for why Sophie and Charlie are drawn to one another; but this is a flaw in almost every romantic movie ever made (I mean, they can’t all be Secretary or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), so I didn’t find it a deal-breaker. Also, once I thought about the movie–and it was one that kept me thinking about it–I realized that it might have been trying for subtlety, rather than being irritatingly vague, and if that’s the case then I didn’t mind having to read between the lines a bit. Second, the ending scene was weak, and as much as it tried to step around the cliche of having Sophie on a balcony hearing a profession of love by having the characters laugh at the positioning…it didn’t quite keep me from rolling my eyes. But neither of those problems are unexpected in romantic movies, and neither stopped me from walking out with a smile and thinking about the movie for the rest of the evening.
In all, Letters to Juliet accomplishes what it sets out to, and if you look at the premise of this movie and want to see it, I don’t think the execution will disappoint you. So put on a sundress and sneak in a bottle of wine and enjoy the journey through Italy and a love that crosses time and oceans.