Thursday, May 13, 2010
Letters to Juliet imagines, in its own way, what would have happened if star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet didn’t die, but merely went their separate ways. A cynic might say they saved one another years of bickering and heartache. A romantic would weep for the years they lost. A director, in this case Gary Winick (Bride Wars), would put them in an occasionally amusing heartwarmer that’s formulaic to the very end.
The story: Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) wants to be a writer. She’s engaged to Victor (Gael Garcia Bernal), a chef and soon-to-be restaurateur. Together they go on a pre-honeymoon to Verona, Italy, where she wants to sightsee and he wants to meet with potential vendors. As they spend time apart, she discovers a courtyard in which women leave letters to Juliet Capulet (of Romeo and Juliet fame), looking for advice on their love lives.
Four women known as “Juliet’s Secretaries” answer these letters, and Sophie is invited to join them. When she finds a letter written 50 years ago that’s gone unanswered, she responds. A few days later the woman who wrote the letter, Claire (Vanessa Redgrave), and her grandson Charlie (Christopher Egan), arrive in Verona, and Sophie joins them on a quest to find Claire’s long-lost love, Lorenzo (Franco Nero, Redgrave’s husband).
Let’s think about this for a second. Claire wrote this letter to a woman who (according to Shakespeare) was 15 when she committed suicide after finding her lover dead.
Juliet knew nothing of love, only the infatuation of a forbidden romance that occurred at a time of budding hormones and unexplored sexuality. Really, Juliet was hardly an expert on love, just as Sophie and the four old bats have no right to pry into people’s love lives. Women leave letters to Juliet for hope, not Hallmark answers.
Logic aside, writers Jose Rivera and Tim Sullivan have a right to ask us to suspend disbelief, and the result is a by-the-books love story that’s predictable and bland. Redgrave is endearing as Claire, but the last half-hour fizzles as we wait for the inevitable to transpire. As for Seyfried (Chloe, Dear John), who got lost in the hellishness of Pierce Brosnan scream-singing in Mamma Mia, this film proves there’s some real talent behind the beauty. It’ll be interesting to see where her career goes from here.
Here’s what I’d write in a letter to Juliet:
“Hey Jules. Nice job inspiring people to think that losing a loved one is something to die for. Can’t imagine how many suicides and depressives we have because of your sob story. Worse, because of you movies like Letters to (You) overly romanticize the art of tragically lost love, leaving men tortured and women weeping. Romeo would not be happy.”