Formulaic and telegraphic, there are no surprises in this chaste, passionless movie from Summit Entertainment, responsible for the “Twilight” romancers (with a trailer for the third installment attached to a preview screening of “Letters to Juliet”). This won’t be a smidgeon as much fun, or successful, although teenagers in the audience will giggle with youthful delight. Director Gary Winick, who often wears a producer’s hat as well, helmed 2009’s “Bride Wars,” a remarkably unbelievable romantic sitcom. He paints a pretty picture, although that’s more due to cinematographer Marco Pontecorvo’s lush Tuscan (and eternally sunny) landscapes and more than a few horizon-hugging moon or sun shots. The cast is as pretty as the scenery; skip the film and book a flight to Italy. The script by José Rivera and Tim Sullivan isn’t half bad or half good; there are no real groaners—just predictability.
“Letters to Juliet” opens with a cute credit montage of people, animals, cartoons, whatever, kissing, which seques into Sophie Hall (Amanda Seyfried) a fact-checker for The New Yorker, chasing down confirmation surrounding the iconic Alfred Eisenstaedt Life magazine photograph of a jubilant sailor kissing a complete stranger in Times Square on V-J Day, bringing an end to World War II. In a snap, her editor (Oliver Platt, briefly) wishes her well on her pre-honeymoon with bland fiancé Victor (Gael García Bernal), who looks as the vacation as a business trip in which he can meet suppliers for the New York City restaurant he’s opening in six weeks. Sure, he loves Italy, but instead of spending time with his bride-to-be, he’s out ogling cheese, sampling olive oil, examining truffles, or attending an awfully long wine auction.
Meanwhile, Sophie, ever the aspiring writer, happens into the Casa di Giuletta on one of her many solitary sightseeing excursions around Verona , and sees a potential story answering one of the many notes stuffed in a wall by amorously disenfranchised damsels and later retrieved by the Secretaries of Juliet, a cadre of Dear Abbys. These few ladies respond with romantic advice via missives of therapeutic counsel. Sophie’s answer, however, replies to a previously unnoticed 50-year-old letter left by a young English art student whose passion for a young farm worker named Lorenzo was cast aside with her return to London.
That now older woman, Claire (Vanessa Redgrave—the most elegant actor in the film), a widow with a spark of revived romantic curiosity, astonishingly arrives in town within the week reluctantly accompanied by her stuffy yet handsome grandson Charlie (Chrisopher Egan). From Charlie and Sophie’s first quirky, unpleasant encounter you know that they’ll probably end up together.
The rest of the movie meanders about the Italian countryside, along the roads of Tuscany, as Claire, Charlie, and Sophie look for the missing Mr. Right, i.e. Lorenzo Bartollini, that Claire fled a half-century earlier. Sophie’s expertise as a fact-checker comes into action; otherwise we’d be looking at a four-hour film. There are some amusing roadside distractions with numerous Mr. Wrongs, as well as the first kiss between you know who. There’s another plot point about the loss of one’s parents, but it’s poorly executed.
Romantic episodes follow. Gelato gets tossed about with humorous affection. More lovely scenery flashes by. Fate/Destiny intervenes as a cheap plot device. And the entrance of a handsome looking man on a white horse almost made some of the female audience (those who have been cooing throughout the film) swoon.
Wait, what about Victor? Well, he’s preoccupied with less romantic thoughts as the couple return to the Big Apple. The script gets real predictable from here on out, but, naturally, you’re going to get the expected happy ending, or two, despite some last minute confusion about a woman named Patricia.
No doubt, the distributor of “Letters to Juliet” hopes that the gals who are waiting for Carrie, Charlotte, Cynthia, and Kim to return in the “Sex and the City” sequel two weeks hence might be anxious for a PG quickie instead of playing with the rather serious men in Ridley Scott’s “Robin Hood.” On its own, “Letters to Juliet” is a lovely travelogue and not much more. Actually the entire story of the film is captured perfectly by the trailer. Watch that online and save a few bucks.