Letters to Juliet -- Film Review
NEW YORK -- Like "Mamma Mia!" for Shakespeare fans -- and by "fans," we mean those who only know "Romeo and Juliet" and a few sonnets, and who think of that play's suicide pact as a model relationship -- "Letters to Juliet" figures all you need to woo a certain kind of moviegoer is miles of gorgeous scenery, an unquestioning belief in destiny and the large-eyed presence of Amanda Seyfried.
The boxoffice will likely reward the movie's limited ambitions, but expect eye-rolling alongside the swoons at this bland, predictable picture, whose sole assets are a cute premise, the Italian countryside and the dignity Vanessa Redgrave brings to a part that, on the page, is quite beneath her.
Redgrave plays Claire, an Englishwoman who, vacationing in Italy 50 years ago, was among the many girls who write letters to Shakespeare's doomed heroine and place them on a wall in Verona. Her letter goes missing until aspiring writer Sophie (Seyfried) decides to answer it in Juliet's voice, urging the now-aged woman to seek out the boy she loved and lost during her Italian summer.
Seyfried has stumbled across this Miss Lonelyhearts-ish "letters to Juliet" business while on a romantic vacation with her fiance (Gael Garcia Bernal) that has somehow become a working trip for him. ("It's a win-win!" he says each time the two find things they can do independently of each other.) She's only too relieved when Claire follows her advice, shows up in Verona and lets her join the quest while Sophie's hubby-to-be is off hunting rare wines and truffles for his restaurant.
Naturally, Claire is escorted by a grandson so incredibly rude, so opposed to the silliness of True Love, that Sophie must somehow manage to fall for him by the penultimate reel. (Christopher Egan, who plays the unlikely love interest, should be sending thank-you cards to Bernal, whose performance is so devoid of the qualities that typically make Bernal lovable onscreen that even this snotty, narrow-eyed Aussie looks like a step up.)
While we wait for the inevitable, viewers get a stiff dose of sappy Italian pop music in between bouts of Andrea Guerra's busy score, long drives through the countryside and a few genuinely amusing moments as the seekers find one elderly Italian man after another who would be only too happy to pretend to be Redgrave's once-and-future lover. Wouldn't we all, boys.
The pleasure of seeing a pair of lovestruck senior citizens reunite pushes the movie's last chapter in a happy direction, and those who ask little more from love than a clumsy balcony climb and a last-minute transatlantic flight or two will leave the theater more than satisfied. For everyone else, may we suggest those Shakespeare romances that actually had happy endings?
Opens: Friday, May 14 (Summit Entertainment)
Production company: Applehead Pictures, Summit Entertainment
Rated PG, 101 minutes