May 13, 2010

Letters to Juliet

Ah, Pantene - that explains the hair!

Grade: C

Director: Gary Winick

Starring: Amanda Seyfried, Vanessa Redgrave, Christopher Egan, and Gael Garcia Bernal

MPAA Rating: PG

Running Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes

Only presence of the aging but still luminous Vanessa Redgrave spares the sun-bathed trifle Letters to Juliet from the direct-to-DVD release it deserves.

Aspiring writer and frustrated fiancĂ©e Sophie (the ubiquitous Amanda Seyfried) jets off to Italy with her betrothed, Victor (Gael Garcia Bernal), on a pre-honeymoon that quickly turns into an extended shopping trip for Victor’s new restaurant. As Victor becomes more interested in truffles than her, Sophie jaunts off to Verona, where she uncovers a decades-old, unanswered letter written by am Englishwoman named Claire (Redgrave) to Shakespeare’s Juliet Capulet and left inside the wall of the fictional lover’s courtyard.

Joining up with a coterie of volunteer signoras who everyday answer a legion of similar lovelorns, Sophie’s belated response to Claire’s weathered missive inspires – in ridiculously rapid fashion – the now-septuagenarian widow and her peevish, hunky grandson, Charlie (Matt Damon clone Chris Egan), to hop a flight and trot off to Tuscany. There they search for the mysterious – and commonly-named – Lorenzo Bartolini, Claire’s long-lost teenage beloved (ultimately played here by Franco Nero, Redgrave’s husband and a dead ringer for the guy in those Most Interesting Man in the World commercials).

Frankly, anyone with a minimal level of cognition can surmise the remainder of this film’s plotline based solely on the preceding two sentences. That realization sets in early for the viewer, making all the obligatory tropes of vineyards, rugged men on horseback, and a wedding-scene denouement that much more arduous to endure. Adding insult to inanity is the utter waste of Bernal in the de rigueur role of the boyfriend so goofily self-centered – why did Sophie agree to marry him in first place? – it justifies her eventual wayward eye.

Director Gary Winick improves on his last debacle, the retched Bride Wars, but that is like saying a root canal is better than appendicitis. The dialogue is built around eye-rolling clunkers like “I didn’t know love had an expiration date” and “Do you believe in destiny?” As it is, Letters to Juliet sours quickly, and the only place it is destined for is the wasteland of the Lifetime Movie Network.

Neil Morris

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