Letters to Juliet


Letters to Juliet

When Victor looks into Sophie's eyes, he can see a really fine...chianti.

(2010) Romantic Comedy (Summit) Amanda Seyfried, Christopher Egan, Gael Garcia Bernal, Vanessa Redgrave, Franco Nero, Oliver Platt, Marcia DeBonis, Luisa Ranieri, Marina Massironi, Lydia Biondi, Milena Vukotic, Luisa De Santis. Directed by Gary Winick

Nearly all of us have at least a ghost of a bit of romance within us. We secretly believe that the secret to our redemption is that great love, the one that is trumpets and swans and fireworks exploding overhead. We want our love to be grand gestures; we want it overcome every obstacle. We also want it to be eternal.

Sophie (Seyfried) and her fiancée Victor (Bernal) are on a little pre-marriage vacation to beautiful Verona in Italy. It’s partially a working vacation – Victor is in the midst of opening an Italian restaurant back in New York and he’s all about wine tasting, finding the right ingredients so he can present New Yorkers with the most authentic Italian cuisine ever.

Sophie is working as a fact-checker for the New Yorker and longs to be a writer, which her editor (Platt) encourages somewhat. She also longs to sightsee beyond the interior of wineries and cheese factories, indeed to experience the romance and charm of Verona firsthand.

In wandering about the ancient town she comes upon a strange sight – dozens of women, some obviously upset and distraught, leaving letters and notes on the wall of a courtyard of a Renaissance-era home. She learns that this was the palace of the Capulets, the family of Juliet (of Romeo and) herself, and these women are seeking her advice in love.

To her astonishment, she discovers that these letters to a 13-year-old fictional character are actually being answered – by a group of older women who call themselves the Secretaries of Juliet. Intrigued, she joins them and begins to write responses of her own. One in particular grabs her imagination – a 50-year-old letter found hidden behind a rock in the wall, belonging to a lovestruck teen named Claire who found the love of her life in a Tuscan farmer named Lorenzo Bartolini but chose to give him up for practical considerations, then regretted her decision. Sophie writes an impassioned letter back to Claire, urging her to return and find her love.

Amazingly the letter finds its way to Claire (Redgrave) who shows up in Verona and brings her flinty, curmudgeonly grandson Charlie (Egan) in tow. Charlie’s not a big believer in love or romance and considers this so much foolishness, but he obviously adores his grandmother so he goes along for the ride reluctantly, wanting to be there to protect her.

Inspired by Sophie’s letter as Juliet, Claire means to find her Lorenzo. The problem is that there are apparently quite a few men named Lorenzo Bartolini in Italy and so they must weed out all the wrong Lorenzos. This means quite a bit of driving through the bucolic Italian countryside, many opportunities for the romantic Sophie to argue with the pragmatic Charlie (they’re so at odds with each other you just know they’re going to wind up together) and the increasingly conflicted Sophie texts with Victor, wondering now if perhaps she’s not making the same mistake Claire did half a century earlier.

Romantic comedies are a dime a dozen these days but good ones are on the endangered species list of Hollywood. Fortunately, this is a pretty good one for the most part, mainly due to the travelogue-like Italian countryside, beautifully photographed for sun-dappled orchards and vineyards, bright blue skies and charming villages. Equally charming is Seyfried, who can be one of the more likable actresses when she has the right part. You would think this would be right up her alley, but she is curiously lifeless here; I’ve seen her far more energetic in parts that were less worthy of it. It’s a bit disappointing – I do like her very much as an actress – but not fatal.

More pleasant is Redgrave, who plays the elderly lover with wide-eyed wonder, both the wise mentor and the eternal ingénue. She lights up the screen whenever she’s on, and her scenes with Nero (who plays the right Bartolini) instantly transport you back to the days of Camelot when Nero’s Lancelot fell for Redgrave’s Guinevere. The two have the kind of chemistry you can’t fake (see Trivial Pursuits below) and it adds a nice touch to the movie. Bernal is kind of the odd man out here, as close as there is to an antagonist; he’s merely more passionate about his restaurant than he is about Sophie and in some ways I can’t blame him.

The charm here is easy to digest, perfect for mindless cuddling. There is a sense of romance that is missing from most romantic comedies these days, which seem to concentrate more on buffoonish physical gags and formulaic script writing than in making an interesting story about believable people. There is a little bit of that here – as in Charlie and Sophie detesting each other so much that you know they’ll be together by the final credits. That does knock down the final score a bit, but it’s still an enjoyable, charming little romance. Unfortunately, it’s little else.

WHY RENT THIS: A bit of sweetness here, particularly when Redgrave is onscreen. Plenty of gorgeous Italian countryside to feast your eyes upon.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Pretty much by-the-numbers romantic comedy. Seyfried is curiously de-energized here.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a little bit of bad language (but only a smidge) and an inkling of sexual behavior.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Redgrave and Nero are a couple in real life, marrying 40 years after meeting on the set of Camelot; also real are the secretaries for Juliet, who actually do answer letters left behind in Verona and are known as the Juliet Club.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There is a five minute feature on the actual courtyard in Verona where letters to Juliet are placed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $79.1M on a $30M production budget; the movie was profitable.

FINAL RATING: 5.5/10

TOMORROW: Dylan Dog: Dead of Night

New Releases for the Week of May 14, 2010


May 14, 2010
Robin Hood takes aim, which means someone is going to get perforated.

ROBIN HOOD

(Universal) Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, Danny Huston, William Hurt, Max von Sydow, Mark Strong, Matthew Macfayden, Kevin Durand. Directed by Ridley Scott

The latest reimagining of the legend of Robin Hood reunites the Gladiator team of director Scott and actor Crowe. Here, a lethal bowman in the Crusades returns home to find Nottingham suffering under the rule of a despotic Sheriff enforcing the rule of a cruel monarch. Only the spirited widow Lady Marion acts as a beacon of hope for the downtrodden people of Nottingham. Robin determines to free the people from the yoke of oppression and gathers together a crew of mercenaries and outlaws to steal from the rich to give to the poor, but finds himself embroiled in larger issues – as in keeping his country from descending into a bloody civil war.

See the trailer, featurette, clips and web-only content here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: PG-13 (for violence including intense sequences of warfare, and some sexual content)

Harry Brown

(Goldwyn) Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, Liam Cunningham, Iain Glen. Harry Brown lives in a flat in a neighborhood that while once good, has fallen into ruin and crime. The police are unwilling or unable to do anything about it. Harry’s only companion is Leonard, his closest friend. When Leonard is murdered by the gang bangers, Harry – a former military man – takes matters into his own hands.

See the trailer, clips and a music video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: R (for strong violence and language throughout, drug use and sexual content)

House Full

(Eros International) Akshay Kumar, Ritesh Deshmukh, Deepika Padukone, Lara Dutta. When a young man gets fed up with all his rotten luck, he decides that only finding true love will break him out of the cursed life he is leading. The quickest way to find true love is to date as many women as possible, so he dates three women at once – and through a series of misadventures, winds up married to all three of them in this Bollywood comedy.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: Not Rated (but parental guidance recommended due to comic violence and some sexual situations)

Just Wright

(Fox Searchlight) Queen Latifah, Common, Paula Patton, Phylicia Rashad. A physical therapist finds she is falling for a pro basketball player whom she is rehabilitating from a career-threatening injury. The relationship is threatened when her man-eating best friend also sets her sights on the NBA star.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: PG (for some suggestive material and brief language)

Letters to Juliet

(Summit) Amanda Seyfried, Vanessa Redgrave, Christopher Egan, Gael Garcia Bernal. A young American woman engaged to be married takes a vacation to romantic Verona and winds up joining a group of volunteers who answer letters from the lovelorn addressed to Juliet, of the Shakespeare play Romeo and Juliet. One particular letter grabs her imagination and she sets out to bring two people together who have been waiting 50 years for it, and finds the meaning of love in the process.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: PG (for brief rude behavior, some language and incidental smoking)