Frustrated by a lack of writing opportunities at work, Sophie accompanies her chef fiancé Victor to Italy where he's sourcing food and wine for his soon-to-open restaurant. When Victor and Sophie part ways, she happens upon a wall where letters are left for Juliet Capulet asking for love advice. Sophie discovers an unanswered letter from Claire to an Italian man she fell in love with decades earlier, Lorenzo Bartolini (Redgrave's real-life husband Franco Nero). Sophie takes on the role of a 'Juliet secretary' and writes a reply, bringing Claire and her grandson Charlie (Christopher Egan) along to seek out Lorenzo. To Sophie's advantage, this is all great material for a New Yorker article. The letter idea is a cute one (and based on an actual tradition), but aren't these relationship woes better directed somewhere else? Juliet's union with Romeo has ended in bloodshed in every interpretation I've seen.
Letters To Juliet is cheesier than a bag of Wotsits and has about as much subtlety in its portrayal of Italy as a Dolmio commercial. Director Gary Winick, who's perhaps best known for helming the enjoyable Jennifer Garner-does-Big comedy 13 Going On 30, shoots the film as if it's a tourism video. Look past the landscape porn, though, and the characters are thinly sketched and not that interesting.
The outcome of romantic movies like this is nearly always a foregone conclusion, so success rests with the cast to keep things alive. Unfortunately Seyfried delivers one of her least convincing performances as the bland audience surrogate, while Christian Egan has the charisma and charm of a cardboard cut-out as the stuffy young Brit who eventually falls for Sophie. Redgrave is able to keep her dignity intact, bringing a bit of class to the part of the love-struck 60-something. An underused Bernal is good value, too, as Seyfried's cuisine-obsessed other half. Comically, when he's not talking about food he's trying to shove it down Sophie's mouth.
Letters To Juliet is bland, inoffensive and the dual-generational soppiness will mean mums and daughters can have an undemanding night out with it. Yet there's nothing here, scenery apart, that really leaves a lasting impression. In the closing minutes, events contrive to put a girl on a balcony and a boy in the courtyard down below, mimicking that famous moment from Romeo & Juliet. Irked by the endless will they/won't they, girl tells boy: "This is really painful." After close to two hours of fairly unremarkable viewing, at that point the feeling is mutual.
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