By Matt Brunson
LETTERS TO JULIET
DIRECTED BY Gary Winick
STARS Amanda Seyfried, Vanessa Redgrave
Letters to Juliet immediately tips its hand that it's going to be a formulaic romantic comedy straight off the assembly line — nothing more, nothing less. Sophie (Amanda Seyfried), a fact-checker at The New Yorker, heads to Italy for a "pre-wedding honeymoon,” a chance to spend some quality time with her fiancé before they get married. But said fiancé, a restauranteur named Victor (Gael Garcia Bernal), barely pays any attention to Sophie once they reach their destination, always rushing off to meet his suppliers, bolting to learn cooking tips from experts, and daydreaming whenever she has the gumption to tell him about her day. It's apparent from the start that Victor is 100% prime jerk, begging the question, "Why is someone like Sophie engaged to him in the first place?"
The answer: Because giving Sophie a decent boyfriend, someone worth keeping, might cause audience members to feel uncomfortable when she later starts dallying with another man. It's better to saddle her with an obvious loser so viewers don't have to clutter their minds with moral quandaries or other unsavory thoughts.
The rest of the picture is just as bland, with Sophie unearthing a 50-year-old love letter and attempting to unite the woman who wrote it, a Brit named Claire (Vanessa Redgrave), with the Italian gentleman who swept her off her feet all those decades ago. Naturally, Claire has a grandson Sophie's age, and just as naturally, this lad, Charlie (dull-as-dirt Christopher Egan), and Sophie bicker incessantly before falling in love. Predictable? Let's just say this is the sort of movie where if a character is shown climbing up some shrubbery, you just know a branch will break and send him tumbling earthward.
For all its clichés, the film isn't awful, just awfully common. As compensation, there are many lovely shots of the Italian countryside and, for her fans, even lovelier shots of the radiant Seyfried. And as someone who digested many movies starring European superstar (and Redgrave's husband) Franco Nero during my formative years, it was a kick seeing him again for the first time in years. Yet these isolated perks aren't nearly enough to earn Letters to Juliet a stamp of approval.