“What are you? Some lonely American girl who wants to live vicariously through others?” Charlie asked. Yes, I replied, and then got back to writing a review for Letters to Juliet, a film about an American girl who’s not lonely but ends up alone during her pre-honeymoon in Italy.
While her fiancé Victor (Gael García Bernal) is off cozying up to suppliers for his soon-to-open restaurant, Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) wanders around Verona and stumbles upon a group of women who give advice on matters of the heart. They answer letters left to Juliet Capulet from lovelorn women around the world, a sort of very personal Dear Abby. Sophie, a fact checker and aspiring writer for The New Yorker, lends a hand and stumbles on a letter written fifty years ago by Claire (Vanessa Redgrave), then a teenage art student who returned to England leaving her Italian farmboy lover in the lurch.
Sophie pens a response, and one scene later, Claire arrives in Italy accompanied by her disapproving grandson Charlie (Christopher Egan). Despite Sophie and Charlie’s obvious dislike, the three set out into the hills of Verona to find Claire’s soulmate, Lorenzo Bartolini (Franco Nero, Redgrave’s actual soulmate), which is kind of like tracking down a John Davis in New York.
It’s easy to roll your eyes at a movie that employs every cliché in the book. I put up a pretty stubborn resistance but reluctantly found myself enjoying the schmaltz, which is curious because the movie isn’t memorably funny and lacks an ounce of originality. But it does have sympathetic characters played well and gorgeous sun-kissed scenery besides.
Seyfried is sweet as a dewdrop here and exceedingly warm, the kind of person who wins you over with a smile. There’s no reason her character should be in a year-long engagement to a guy who cares more about cheese than about his girlfriend, but her loyalty is easy to forgive. Just as Victor is easy to forgive because García Bernal plays him with such cheek that every appearance elicits a satisfying chuckle. (“I wish I was a little mouse living in a cheese cave.” I bet you do.)
Even staid and cynical Charlie earns some points for his thoughtful backstory, though he probably wins extra affection because actor Egan reminds us of how The Sound of Music might have ended if Rolf had made better life choices and become a human rights lawyer instead. Interestingly, Redgrave and Nero recede to the background, content to let the kids share the spotlight knowing that they have their own romance to go home to. Still, their talents aren’t wasted and they give extra emotional weight to an otherwise exhausted love story.
Prod: Caroline Kaplan, Ellen Barkin, Mark Canton
Dir: Gary Winick
Writer: Jose Rivera, Tim Sullivan
Cast: Amanda Seyfried, Christopher Egan, Vanessa Redgrave, Gael García Bernal, Franco Nero, Luisa Ranieri, Oliver Platt
Time: 105 min
Lang: English, some Italian
Country: United States