LETTERS TO JULIET
Rated PG for brief rude behavior, some language and incidental smoking.
*** ½ out of 5
Sometimes when a few weeks have passed since seeing a film you start to wonder how much of it you may have forgotten. Unless it’s a particularly monumental film, it’s more than likely to have been almost everything. But when you have a fully streamlined trailer to watch and a page of notes to read through it can all come back in a matter of minutes.
While the trailer gives away literally every single plot point, “Letters to Juliet” still manages to come out on top. After such a dismal start to year for chick flicks with such atrocities as “The Back-up Plan,” “When in Rome,” “Remember Me,” “Valentine's Day,” “The Last Song,” and “Dear John,” you hope for the best with each new film. Especially when one touts the reunion of Vanessa Redgrave and Franco Nero for the first time since Camelot in 1967.
Director Gary Winick made a splash at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival with his film “Tadpole” and went on to make the hilarious guilty pleasure for guys rom-com “13 Going on 30” and the cutesy 2006 live-action update of “Charlotte’s Web.” Things seemed to be going well after these three films; then along came his first paycheck film, “Bride Wars,” which instantly became one of the worst films to come out of last year. All hope seemed lost but Winick could be on a comeback trail after this.
Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) works as a fact-checker in New York City for “The New Yorker.” While she dreams of becoming a staff writer, her boss (a strangely uncredited Oliver Platt) thinks she’s too good at her job already to try something new. Sophie and her fiancé Victor (Gael García Bernal) are heading off to Italy on a pre-honeymoon where Victor’s work takes over the proceedings and his priorities begin to shine as he’s more worried about meeting with suppliers than having any fun with his bride-to-be.
Victor catches word about a wine auction in Borno and the pair decides to split up to make the best of their time for both of them. Sophie winds up in Verona where she discovers a wall covered in letters written to Shakespeare’s Juliet asking for love advice. At the end of the day Sophie notices that after all the weepy-eyed women have scattered, a woman begins collecting all of the letters and she follows the woman to a restaurant where an upstairs collection of quirky letter writers have deemed themselves the “secretaries of Juliet.”
Sophie decides to try her hand at writing back after she discovers a 50-year-old letter from Claire (Redgrave) to a left-in-waiting Lorenzo (Nero). Soon the dapper Charlie (Christopher Egan) shows up to find whomever wrote his grandmother Claire, as Claire has dragged him to Italy in search of her abandoned Lorenzo. Sophie sees this as her chance to write a story for “The New Yorker” and prove her skills to her boss and tags alongside Charlie and Claire in their search across Italy for the love of Claire’s life.
Anyone who can’t guess the outcome of this movie has never seen a rom-com before or simply just doesn’t care. But thankfully Winick, along with writers Jose Rivera and Tim Sullivan, has come up with an interesting enough plot, characters you don’t hate, an avoidance of pratfalls or overabundance of sloppy slapstick, and a reunion too long in the making. While it may not be one of the best romantic comedies to come out of Hollywood, it’s got such an innocent spirit about it and a cast filled with enough charm to carry things along.
Even the soundtrack is made up of more interesting choices than usual. Instead of cramming whatever’s popular with the tweens these days, it features mostly international versions of songs instantly familiar to American audiences, ultimately making it surprisingly very jarring when Taylor Swift’s love anthem “Love Story” pops up in the end where it feels very out of place and forced.
Had the film swapped the supporting cast (Redgrave and Nero) for the main characters, the filmmakers could have had something even more. Redgrave is fantastic and should have a vehicle of her own to carry after this. Yet there’s still enough here to keep the males in the audience from wanting to either bang their heads on the seat in front of them or make their female counterparts suffer through “A Nightmare on Elm Street” for revenge.
Article first published as Movie Review: Letters to Juliet on Blogcritics.