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Overall Rating

Awesome: 0%
Worth A Look: 12.5%
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Pretty Crappy75%
Sucks: 6.25%

2 reviews, 4 user ratings

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Letters to Juliet
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Dead Letter"
2 stars

About twenty years ago, musical legend and international art thief Elvis Costello sat down and wrote “The Juliet Letters,” a song that he would record with the classical music group The Brodsky Quartet inspired by the fact that countless of broken-hearted people over the years have ventured to Verona, Italy to visit the purported home of Juliet of Capulet--yes, that Juliet--and leave letters asking her advice as to how to handle their own romantic trials and tribulations. While I suppose Costello deserves some credit for his ambitions--what other pop star of his magnitude would even attempt such a thing--the end result was a dull, dreary and virtually unlistenable slog that, in terms of his relatively few career low points, currently ranks somewhere between writing songs for pop tart Wendy James and telling Stephen Stills and Bonnie Bramlett what he thought of Ray Charles in the middle of that infamous drunken argument in the bar of an Ohio Holiday Inn. Now there is “Letters to Juliet,” a film that uses the very same conceit of people writing letter to Juliet as its own leaping-off point. Of course, some of you may be thinking that if one of the finest songwriters of our time was unable to make much of anything out of that particular premise, it would seem highly unlikely that the guy responsible for the likes of “13 Going On 30” and “Bride Wars” could possibly succeed where he had failed. As it turns out, you would be right because the end result is a load of pseudo-romantic glop that is so shamelessly and embarrassingly hacky that it may force most critics to reconsider all the nasty things that they said about the likes of “Valentine’s Day” (or “Leap Year,” if they were smart enough to recognize the charms of that film the first time around).

Amanda Seyfried stars as Sophie, a fact-checker from The New Yorker who dreams of one day shedding that gig and becoming a real writer. However, before the film can turn into a distaff version of “Bright Lights, Big City,” Sophie breaks away from the living hell of fixing David Denby’s prose by going off to Verona for a “pre-engagement vacation” with her fiancee, Victor (Gael Garcia Bernal), during the downtime before the opening of his own Italian restaurant. Alas, while poor, sweet Sophie wants to visit all the romantic sights to be had, Victor is only interested in exploring vineyards and cheese factories in order to find exotic tidbits and recipes for the restaurant. Left alone once again, Sophie visits the scene Juliet’s home and notices a woman collecting all the letters in a basket at the end of the day. Curious, she follows her and is introduced to the secretaries of Juliet--a group of women from diverse backgrounds (though they are all fluent in both Italian and Sitcom) who have charged themselves with reading and answering the missives. Inexplicably, they ask Sophie to join them and while collecting notes the next day, she inadvertently uncovers one that has been hidden inside the wall since 1957 and is so taken with the heart-rending story of Claire, a British girl who abandons the love of her life, a local farmhand by the name of Lorenzo Bartolini, to return home to her studies because of her father’s disapproval (possibly the result of her only being fifteen at the time) that she is compelled to answer it after all this time.

Amazingly, it only takes a couple of days for Sophie’s response to land in the hands of the now-aging Claire (Vanessa Redgrave. . .yes, Vanessa Redgrave) and even more amazingly, it has inspired here to return to Verona, accompanied by her stick-in-the-mud grandson, Charlie (Christopher Egan), in the hopes of rediscovering her long-lost love. With her own great romance on hold thanks to Victor going off on a series of wine auctions and smelling a story that could prove to be her literary breakthrough, Sophie invites herself to tag along with Claire and Charlie on their quest and uses her keen research skills to narrow down the number of potential Lorenzo’s in the area. Of course, Sophie and Charlie can’t stand each other at first but, in a development that is likely to shock many of you, they learn things about each other (he’s a human rights lawyer and she was abandoned by her mother as a child) that cause them to reevaluate their feelings for each other, though not so much that they won’t revert to getting upset with each other whenever the screenplay requires. I wouldn’t dream of revealing what happens from this point on but if I tell you that the rest of the film includes such ingredients as someone riding in at the last second on a mighty white steed, a wedding, people making transcontinental flights at the drop of a hat, tragic misunderstandings, tearful reconciliations, a balcony scene and Taylor Swift’s “Love Story” on the soundtrack, I suspect that you will be able to piece the rest of it together without too much trouble.

While watching “Letters to Juliet,” I once again found myself wondering when exactly it was that Hollywood simply forgot how to make decent romantic comedies. This isn’t to say that every single example of the genre made back in the day was a work of unparalleled creative genius but even the less auspicious ones were usually made with a certain degree of wit, charm and cleverness--they may have been little more than silly fluff but they at least had the dignity to realize that they were silly fluff--and featured actors and actresses who were able underscore (or overcome) the gossamer-thin and occasionally ridiculous premises that they had been given by the sheer force of their individual personalities and collective on-screen chemistry. Despite having a premise that, with a couple of tweaks here and there, could have easily served as a basis for a second-tier romantic comedy from the 1930’s--the kind that you wouldn’t necessarily make an effort to record if it popped up on TCM but which you might at least watch for a few minutes if you came upon it while channel-hopping one night--“Letters to Juliet” doesn’t have the feel of one of those films and it is all the poorer for it. The screenplay from Jose Rivera and Tim Sullivan is a shameless compendium of clichés and contrivances of the kind that I thought had been retired decades ago. while that might have worked if they at least had the humor and self-confidence to own up to its own artifice, they instead make the mistake of approaching the material in a way that wants to actually take it seriously, which of course only makes it seem sillier than it already is. It is also bizarrely structured in the way that it sets up the idea of going off on a journey to find the long-lost Lorenzo and then basically ignores that quest, save for a brief montage or two, in order to concentrate on the non-starter that is the relationship between Sophie and Charlie. The dialogue is a similarly uninspiring collection of tepid romantic banter, ungainly exposition and pseudo-profundities along the lines of “I didn’t know that true love had an expiration date”--this may be the first screen romance in recent memory where the inclusion of ABBA lyrics might have actually come across as an improvement. As for the two lovebirds who wind up taking center stage, they are so resolutely unappealing in every possible way that I found myself rooting for them to get together simply because this was a screen couple that really and truly deserved each other--there is more genuine chemistry on display between Sophie and Claire at any given time than with Sophie and Charlie. Okay, the scenery is undeniably pretty but let’s face it, making Tuscany look attractive in a film is not the greatest challenge in the world for a filmmaker--even Uwe Boll himself could probably pull such a task off without too much difficulty.

On paper, the role of Sophie almost seems tailor-made for Amanda Seyfried--it combines the meddling in other people’s long-ago affairs from “Mama Mia,” the epistolary-based romance of “Dear John” and the weird and borderline creepy insinuation into the lives of two generations of the same family from “Chloe”--but all it does is reconfirm her standing as one of the more grating screen presences of our time. I know that I am supposed to find her to be sweet and charming and adorable as all get out but with the combination of her wide-eyed yet vacant stare and her utter lack of personality, she doesn’t suggest the new Audrey Hepburn or Julia Roberts as much as she does a Muppet designed solely to appear in background during crowd scenes. As her eventual suitor, Christopher Egan makes more of an impression but it is the wrong kind--he overplays the humorless prig aspect of his character so much that when he is supposed to show a softer side, he is unable to make the shift and remains incredibly unlikable throughout. As the Baxterino, Gael Garcia Bernal has a couple of nice moments but is kept off-screen too long to make any real impression on the proceedings except to suggest that even at his workaholic worst (and it should be noted that when his character and Sophie begin to spend their days apart, he is always the first one back), he is still infinitely more appealing than his grump of a rival. The only performance that really works here is the one turned in by Vanessa Redgrave, who does for this film what the late Laurence Olivier used to do when he appeared in such craptaculars as “The Boys from Brazil” and “The Jazz Singer”--she donates the considerable cachet of her presence to the service of a film made by and for people who believe that “cachet” is a form of knitting. She is really good here--so good, in fact, that there are times when the film doesn’t seem to know what to do with her--but after a while, seeing her putting her all into something so utterly innocuous and inconsequential is like watching a cook take a rare and exquisite truffle and sprinkle it on top of a plate of Spaghetti-O’s; while it may class up the presentation considerably, it still tastes like Spaghetti-O’s.

“Letters from Juliet” may not be the worst romantic comedy in recent memory--things like “Leap Year” and “The Back-Up Plan” are infinitely worse--but it is so dull, so mundane and so completely lacking in flair, creativity or purpose that it may feel like it while watching it. In fact, in order to save you the time, money and effort that it would take you to actually sit through this thing when you could be doing something more valuable, such as absolutely nothing, I am going to rescind my earlier promise and tell you exactly how it ends. Claire does find her true love after all (played by Franco Nero, a nice touch that the film does absolutely nothing with) and marries him in a ceremony that, like everything else in the film, winds up becoming all about Sophie. Sophie breaks up with Victor--a development that he doesn’t seem too upset about--and winds up with Charlie, though not until after a couple of brief and needless complications. Lastly, Sophie finally achieves her dream of becoming a full-fledged writer at “The New Yorker” (which gets so many plugs throughout that you half-expect to see an ad for Omaha Steaks in the end credits) when her editor (Oliver Platt) goes ga-ga over her story. Based on the quality of both the story and the examples of her writing that we are privy to throughout the film, I must remember to cancel my subscription to “The New Yorker” post-haste.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=18892&reviewer=389
originally posted: 05/14/10 00:04:47
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Tribeca Film Festival For more in the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Newport Beach Film Festival For more in the 2010 Newport Beach Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

7/23/18 Suzanne Vanessa Redgrave is luminous. 4 stars
5/09/11 Shaun A Fun, feel-good film! 4 stars
5/16/10 Carol Miles Amanda Seyfried has worn out her welcome - she can retire now, please. 1 stars
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  14-May-2010 (PG)
  DVD: 14-Sep-2010


  DVD: 14-Sep-2010

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