MacGuffin Film Review – Letters to Juliet

Film Review – Letters to Juliet

Letters to Juliet, which opens in theaters tomorrow, begins with a cute, appropriately far-fetched premise, acted out by an undeniably appealing, charming cast, in a beautiful setting. Unfortunately, it keeps itself from being an actual good movie by mucking up the works with what I like to call Romantic Comedy Annoyances.

Sophie, played by Amanda Seyfried (a personal favorite of mine from her fine work on Big Love), works as a fact-checker at the New Yorker. Of course, what she really wants to be is a writer. The catch is, she’s never shown her work to anyone. At all. This brings us to Romantic Comedy Annoyance #1: The main female character who can’t get it together to say what she really wants, be it man or job related.

At our outset, Sophie already has a man: her chef fiancé, Victor (Gael García Bernal). Victor, being of non-descript Latin origin and also being the not-right guy for our heroine, shows extreme passion for his work but not enough interest in listening to Sophie talk about nothing. The two set off on a trip to Italy, because Victor is about to open a restaurant and needs to meet with suppliers. Unsurprisingly, once there, Victor spends a lot of time doing things like meeting with suppliers—much to Sophie’s chagrin, as apparently she isn’t interested in doing awesome things like visiting Verona’s oldest vineyard. (Going to Verona’s oldest vineyard with Gael García Bernal sounds like the best damn day ever to me, in case anyone is wondering.) RCA #2: the girl who dates a guy who has completely different interests than her, and then can’t understand when he pursues those interests.

Sophie’s forlorn wanderings eventually take her to the house where Juliet once supposedly pined over Romeo. She finds dozens of women in the throes of heartsickness writing notes to Juliet asking for advice (no one seems to have told them that things didn’t really work out for Juliet). Sophie follows the woman who collects the notes, and discovers a group that responds to all of them. When they find a note that’s been overlooked for fifty years, Sophie answers it. Seemingly overnight, she gets a response…in the form of the addressee’s livid grandson (Christopher Egan), who would rather not see his gran (Vanessa Redgrave) go chasing all over Italy looking for a long-lost love.

Cut to these three on a road trip, chasing all over Italy for Grandma Claire’s long-lost love: Lorenzo Bartolini (an inconveniently common name, apparently). Sophie is along for the ride because she’s going to write a story about the search, and because Claire takes a liking to her. Grandson Charlie thinks American Sophie is a nitwit because she says things like “oh my god” and “awesome” (“I went to Brown!” she retorts) and Sophie thinks Charlie is an English prig because—well, because he’s a bit of a prig. (“Charlie, tell Sophie about your pro bono work,” says Claire. Not falling for that one, Gran!)

Thus we come to RCA #3: Girl hates guy, guy hates girl, until they suddenly don’t anymore. At first, Charlie and Sophie seem quite content to dislike each other. There is no sense of urgency whatsoever over this: they’ll only be together for a few days; Sophie is supposed to be getting back to Victor; Charlie lives in England, she in New York.  Yet, even though they say some really awful things to each other, Claire is convinced they’re made for each other. There is a moment when Charlie apologizes to Sophie for one particularly awful thing he said. I think this is the moment when they are supposed to have fallen in love. I think. We don’t exactly get a satisfying progression of emotions. We do eventually get a declaration of love set on a balcony, though, so that’s something.

I’m being hard on the movie because I feel that it could have been good, if the characters and situations had been thought out a little more at the script level. The actors do what they can—Bernal and Egan are both quite funny in their roles, and of course Vanessa Redgrave is flawless—but the feelings just don’t ring true. A lot of moments hit the perfect fun tone (for example, Charlie’s line upon seeing Sophie on the balcony: “Of course.”), and a lot of moments are satisfyingly touching (spoiler: they find Lorenzo, and it’s Redgrave’s real-life husband, Franco Nero!), but the movie just doesn’t do its real job. It didn’t make me root for Sophie, and it didn’t make me believe that she and Charlie belonged together. All the Romantic Comedy Annoyances add up to one Romantic Comedy Fail.

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