Saturday, September 8, 2012

"Letters to Juliet" (2010)

Starring Amanda Seyfried, Chris Egan and Vanessa Redgrave
Written by Jose Rivera and Tim Sullivan
Directed by Gary Winick
Rated PG
Running Time: 105 Minutes

Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) is a young fact-checker for The New Yorker who dreams of being an actual writer one day.  She's engaged to her fiance, Victor (Gael Garcia Bernal), a chef who is opening his own restaurant soon.  The two decide to take an early honeymoon to Italy.  Unfortunately for Sophie, Victor seems only interested in meeting up with the distributors he's contracting for his new restaurant, leaving her playing second fiddle on her own honeymoon.

One afternoon while visiting the house of Shakespeare's fictional Juliet, a tourist attraction where heart-broken women leave letters asking for advice, Sophie discovers a group of women who actually sit down and read and answer all the letters.  Joining them, she finds a letter hidden behind a loose brick that has gone unnoticed for decades.  She decides to answer it, and soon enough she meets Charlie (Chris Egan) and his grandmother Claire (Vanessa Redgrave), the woman who wrote the letter.

Claire, inspired by what Sophie wrote, has decided to return to Italy and find her long-lost love, Lorenzo (Franco Nero, Redgrave's real-life husband).  Leaving Victor behind, Sophie joins Charlie and Claire on their quest to find Lorenzo.  With a list of possible choices, the three hit the road, deciding to meet every Lorenzo Bartolini they can find until they get to the right one.

At first, Sophie and Charlie don't get along.  Charlie worries that his grandmother will be hurt at the end of their quest, and seems to blame Sophie for the whole thing.  But as their journey continues, the two grow closer.  All the while, Claire begins to worry about what will happen if and when she is finally reunited with Lorenzo.

"Letters to Juliet" was apparently inspired by a real-life phenomenon where women do actually leave letters to the fictional character.  It's a clever enough premise for a film, but the film itself isn't all that clever.  It suffers from pretty much every romantic movie cliche you can think of, without any true surprises.  That doesn't necessarily make it a bad film, but you know going in what you're going to get out of it.

Luckily, the cast is game and the script has some good heft to it.  Much like "The Notebook," I found myself more interested in the story of Claire and Lorenzo than the rather obvious growing attraction between Charlie and Sophie.  The concept of this woman coming back after decades, after the loss of her husband and her son, with only her grandson, and trying to track down the man she left behind is much more fascinating than anything else this movie has to offer.  That's not to say that the story between Sophie and Charlie is bad, but it is the less interesting storyline.

I like Amanda Seyfried, I do; she's a lovely woman and a fine actress.  But here, Vanessa Redgrave acts circles around her.  Partially this is because the script doesn't give Sophie much to do besides tag along with Claire's emotional journey.  Sophie has no real emotional meat to her story.  She gets to look sad and annoyed that her fiance is ignoring her, and she gets to flirt with Charlie, but there's only one time when she gets to really act, and that's when Charlie makes a crass remark that hurts her.

Italy provides a lovely backdrop for all this lovey-dovey stuff.  Sophie, Charlie and Claire trek through a lot of gorgeous, old little towns and sprawling vineyards and farmland.  The whole film is awash in warm earthtones, to the point that even the greens have a dull brown tint to them.  It gives the entire film a sort of nostalgic sepia tone, though I'd have preferred to let some other colors through.  Some scenes look like they would have had some amazing greens and blues that are dulled by the overly brown tone of the film.

Still, "Letters to Juliet" is an entirely watchable romantic film.  It features a good cast and an interesting, if overly familiar, storyline.  I just wish there was more meat to the main roles for Sophie and Charlie, but there's more than enough good work being done by Vanessa Redgrave to keep things interesting.