LETTERS TO JULIET (2010)
If you have ever wondered how much money a fact-checker working for The New Yorker magazine makes, this film satisfies your curiousity—-in fact, a fact-checker makes a lot of money. Who knew? A fact-checker can afford to fly to Italy, stay in hotels that cost at least two hundred euros a night; hotels that have room service. Despite all this money, fact-checkers do no know how to dress. The clothes, for the men and the women, in this film are quite dreadful, perhaps as to not upstage the Italian scenery. Letters to Juliet is not my kind of film. I had seen the preview and decided, correctly as it turned out, that I had seen the entire movie and could save myself the time and money. Then I read an article in the newspaper about how Vanessa Redgrave and Franco Nero had met and fell in love while they were playing “Guinevere” and “Lancelot” in Camelot (1967). Fifty years ago they had a child together and went their separate ways, a wonderful example of Sixties free love. And then, after a lifetime apart, they married in 1996 and lived happily ever after. A real life love story—who could resist? I had a free ticket, left over as a bonus for taking my nephew to see How to Train Your Dragon. And so, fortified with a large size yogurt from Golden Spoon, I sat through a truly dreadful film, supported only by my vanilla and chocolate combination treat and the promise that Vanessa would find Franco and then I could go home.
Amanda Seyfried is so sweet and pretty, she turns any film pink. Fortunately or unfortunately, she has had the good fortune of sharing the screen with veterans, like Meryl Street and Redgrave. In Letters to Juliet she is “Sophie” on a pre-honeymoon, touring Italy with her fiancé, “Victor” (Gael Garcia Bernal), a chef preparing to open a restaurant. Although we are supposed to think that “Victor” is selfish and neglectful of “Sophie,” the purpose of going to Italy was so that he could meet his suppliers. “Sophie’s” sulking, then, is childish, and she turns up her nose at what should have been a wonderful tour tasting wine and cheese. “Victor,” a charming and delightful and energetic man, was right to leave this little miss behind to her own devices. She wants to be a writer for The New Yorker but seems an unlikely candidate for a magazine that published Seymour Hirsch’s exposé of Abu Ghrieb. But never mind: this is a film that is cobbled together with every cliché in the book of Romance. One wonders if she has ever read anything the magazine prints, because she becomes inspired by a tale of thwarted love and submits her story to her editor, played by a too kind Oliver Platt. A love story about a modern day Romeo and Juliet? Nothing could interest The New Yorker less.
What do people do in Italy when they have no interest in art or architecture or in beautiful scenery? Not too much. I have been to Verona and I have seen Juliet’s balcony and I never saw sobbing teenage girls writing letters to Juliet, much less sticking them up on the wall. But then, I am not the type to write to a fictitious character, even one invented by Shakespeare. Anyway, the improbable plot is that “Sophie” finds an old letter to Juliet, behind a loose brick, and replies to the writer, fifty years later. “Claire,” an English student, holidaying in Italy, very sensibly returned home after a summer romance with “Lorenzo,” her Italian Romeo. Joining forces with a group of women who actually volunteer their time to answer the letters to Juliet, “Sophie” writes to “Claire” and mails the letter to a fifty-year old address. Before you can say “Romeo,” “Claire” turns up in Verona via what one film reviewer aptly called “movie magic,” accompanied by her grandson, “Charlie” (Christopher Egan). When “Sophie asks how “Claire” received the letter, “Charlie” informs “Sophie” with lofty snobbery that some people stay in their family homes (read: an ancestral mansion). O. K. Next question. But before you can ask “why?” the trio is off on a mission: find Lorenzo.
According to “Claire,” “Lorenzo” would be in Siena, but, improbably, there are seventy some “Lorenzos” with the same name in the region. Now, Tuscany is a small area of a small country and the land around Siena can be covered in a day’s time and that timetable includes stopping to see the art. One might pause to glance at the Duomo, the cathedral which dominates the town; one just might walk through one of the most famous town squares, the Piazza del Campo; and one could stroll into the equally famous Palazzo Pubblico and give a passing glance to the world famous fourteenth century paintings of Good Government and Bad Government by Ambrogio Lorenzetti. But no, these are not curious people, nor are they art lovers. They are searching for the many Lorenzos, taking an enormous amount of time on each candidate, visiting each one personally, when a phone call would have sufficed. But what fun would that be? The only interesting aspect of the Lorenzo hunt is the question: would you recognize your lover after fifty years? Would he be old and fat and bald? People change with age but not that much. But the plot has “Claire” visit several unworthy “Lorenzos,” including a poor blind man and some unpleasant Italian stereotypes. I kept waiting for someone to say, “Romeo, Romeo, where art thou, Romeo?” But I don’t think these people were that clever.
The plot must force a romance between another Romeo and Juliet, “Sophie” and “Charlie,” a boring priggish lawyer who is made mildly interesting by the announcement that he does law pro bono. Never mind he works for free—his grandmother must be wealthy, for our threesome drives around Tuscany, eating at restaurants that have tablecloths, meaning that an entrée starts around thirty euros and that’s not counting the wine, another twenty euros. Speaking of wine, the vastly superior “Victor” is paying attention to business, buying wine, leaving “Sophie” no alternative but to become interested in “Charlie.” Say what you will about the boy, he doesn’t need directions and plunges fearlessly down dirt roads in search of the elusive Lorenzo. Will we ever find “Lorenzo?” Will “Sophie” and “Charlie” ever get together? Will the movie ever end? Unfortunately, my Golden Spoon treat was finished before the film ended, but, fortunately, there were enough sweet and predictable plot devices to allow me to endure until Vanessa and Franco finally lit up the screen together, putting the youngsters in the shade where they belong.