Doodad Kind of Town


Letters to Juliet
June 7, 2010, 10:40 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized


(Warning – some spoilers)

Who the hell writes romantic comedies these days?

I mean, sure, they usually have standard writing credits, two names at most in the opening titles. But, really, I suspect they’re all cranked out by a committee squirreled away somewhere in a windowless conference room in spirited “brainstorming” sessions that play out like an off night at an improv club.

“Give me a prestigious-but-unfulfilling profession for the leading lady!” someone might say. “Give me a reason that her fiancee is too busy to pay attention to her! Give me a romantic foreign locale!”

On the particular day when the answers to those questions were, respectively: “Fact checker for the New Yorker!”, “He’s opening a restaurant!” and “Verona, Italy!” the film “Letters to Juliet” was apparently thus born. Oh, sure, there’s a little more to it than that – there’s also more than a nod to “Romeo and Juliet.” But you could see that coming too, couldn’t you?

Amanda Seyfried – once so delightful in “Mamma Mia” but anemic and bland here – plays the unfulfilled fact-checker, Sophie, who’s dying to get an article in print if only she could get a moment of her distracted boss’ attention to pitch her ideas. She’s nearly as invisible to Victor, her fiance (Gael Garcia Bernal), who’s inexplicably chosen to open his new Italian restaurant mere weeks after their upcoming wedding. So as not to disrupt the restaurant plans, they agree to take a “pre-honeymoon” to Verona, the “city of love.”

Except it turns out to be not so romantic. Victor prefers to spend the days visiting vineyards, savoring local food, and hunting for rare, delectable truffles (as any passionate chef would), activities in which Sophie takes no interest. Turns out, she’d rather wander aimlessly though the streets of Verona in search of local color and scenery that makes her want to open her notebook and write. We’re meant to understand that Victor is too focused on business to appreciate Sophie’s delicate, questing soul , but please… What truly artistic soul doesn’t find joy and romance in great food and wine? (I know I’d rather read an article about a truffle hunt than some dopey, self-absorbed account of her absent-minded wanderings.) Eventually, she discovers the wall of Juliet, a site where the lovelorn pen notes to Shakespeare’s heroine and tuck them into the bricks, hoping for some sage advice in reply.

Through a series of fortunate connections (meant to show us what an enterprising little reporter-in-the makings she really is), Sophie winds up writing a reply to one of these long-lost letters, penned 50 years before by an young Englishwoman who was heartsick at leaving behind her Italian lover, Lorenzo. Sophie’s reply improbably reaches the actual letter-writer in England – and induces her to return to Italy with her grandson in tow to find long-lost Lorenzo – all within the space of about two days. Sophie winds up accompanying them on the hunt, even though she and the grandson (Christopher Egan) despise each other on sight. But we all know where their verbal jousting is going to lead them, now don’t we? You can practically count off the minutes till they’re giggling together over gelato cones in the piazza.

There’s a potentially charming little rom com here that unfortunately sinks under the weight of leaden dialogue, phoned-in performances and uninspired visuals. (Shots of the Italian landscape are merely serviceable when they should be ravishing.) Seyfried and Egan are like the Disney Channel’s idea of what a Brown graduate and an Oxford-educated attorney would be, and the chemistry between them has all the snap and sass of warm cottage cheese. When Egan gets ahold of Sophie’s notebook, he proclaims “Your writing is really, really, really good!” (Hard for us to judge, since we’ve not seen a word of it, but I’m thinking it’s unlikely that a real Oxford grad would be so airheadedly effusive.) And the in the film’s final scene, when Egan proclaims “I am madly, passionately, and deeply in love with you, Sophie!” my bewildered response was “When the hell did that happen?”

Only Redgrave, her performance soaring above the proceedings like an exquisite grace note springing unexpectedly from a tinny, plodding melody line, brings anything like genuine romantic feeling to this dreary little film. There’s more joy and wonder in a single one of her fleeting facial expressions than is contained anywhere else in the proceedings. Normally that’d be one reason to see “Letters from Juliet,” but in this case, Redgrave so far outclasses her co-stars that it’s positively embarassing to watch.

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5 Comments so far
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Oh, you are SO RIGHT, Patty…This is one of the films that I saw recently that I neglected (deliberately) to review. I just couldn't sit down and type the words out. It would have killed me. I thought my head would explode. Finding a good rom com these days is worse than attempting to discover the proverbial needle in a haystack. It's practically a minor miracle. Lovely as she is, after CHLOE and this flick, I'm inclined to give up on Amanda Seyfried for good. It's a shame. She was womderful in MEAN GIRLS. But anemic and bland sums it up gorgeously. There's no chemistry between her and her would be suitor. Why do people always start out hating each other at their first meeting, only to be firmly entwined by the final reel? Surely to Christ there's a better way to do it. That formula is older than the hills. It was sad that the magnificent Vanessa Regrave got roped into this mess. Her presence and the Italian countryside are the only reasons to see this. And even the brilliant goddess Vanessa can't save it. It's horrible. If my romantic relationships were as boring and lifeless as these movies, I would've shot myself years ago. Thank God they're not. So we're in total agreement once again. Well done, my girl…

Comment by Miranda Wilding

Pat: As I discussed with you at the Monday Morning Diary (where you have so graciously made much-appreciated submissions the past few weeks) I avoided seeing this, allowing Lucille and my two daughters to investigate. Lucille generally likes this genre of film (THE NOTEBOOK for example is one of her favorite films ever) and she liked it a bit better than you did -my oldest daughter Melanie shrugged her shoulders when I asked her what she thought- but she is a bit too leniant with romantic comedies.Like you I would think that having Ms. Seyfried aboard would raise the value of the stock here -and boy did I like her a lot in MAMA MIA! -but even with some flaws, that musical was a charming shot of adreneline, which the material here is markedly inferior.I must say I absolutely loved this multi-prongued takedown here Pat:"There's a potentially charming little rom com here that unfortunately sinks under the weight of leaden dialogue, phoned-in performances and uninspired visuals. (Shots of the Italian landscape are merely serviceable when they should be ravishing.) Seyfried and Egan are like the Disney Channel's idea of what a Brown graduate and an Oxford-educated attorney would be, and the chemistry between them has all the snap and sass of warm cottage cheese. When Egan gets ahold of Sophie's notebook, he proclaims "Your writing is really, really, really good!" (Hard for us to judge, since we've not seen a word of it, but I'm thinking it's unlikely that a real Oxford grad would be so airheadedly effusive.) And the in the film's final scene, when Egan proclaims "I am madly, passionately, and deeply in love with you, Sophie!" my bewildered response was "When the hell did that happen?"LOL!!!!And you have REALLY returned to descriptive form in a big way with that beautiful final paragraph, assessing the waste of the great Vanessa Redgrave's presense here, and that fabulous metaphor:"Only Redgrave, her performance soaring above the proceedings like an exquisite grace note springing unexpectedly from a tinny, plodding melody line, brings anything like genuine romantic feeling to this dreary little film. There's more joy and wonder in a single one of her fleeting facial expressions than is contained anywhere else in the proceedings."Beautiful writing for a not so worthy subject, but that's always the best way to re-start, as it definitely reminds you of the kind of lackluster (to be generous) material that's occupying multiplex space at this time of the year.In any case, as I've stated elsewhere, I adore Ms. Redgrave (even if she did snub us outside of her one-woman show a few years back, when my friend Broadway Bob asked for her autograph! Ha!) and will never forget that unforgettable master-class-in-acting final scene in ATONEMENT, where she rose to the rafters.Again, a candid, rooted and magnificent piece of writing. Welcome back ten times over!

Comment by Sam Juliano

Pat: Congratulations on the Stanley Cup clincher last night by your Chicago Bladck Hawks!!!Celebration time in the Windy City!!!

Comment by Sam Juliano

Sam and Miranda -Thank you so much for your kind and enthusiastic comments. It is always lovely to hear from you both, though I fear you may be TOO kind! LOL!My apologies for the delayed response – I spent Tueday night and all day yesterday in the hospital. Don't worry – I checked out fine, nothing serious, but it was worrying for a while. I actually was released immediately after the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup – couldn't help but wonder if my doctor wanted to see the end of the game before reviewing my test results…..After posting this, I felt a bit sad at how curmudgeonly I am with regard to rom coms these days. I actually quite love the genre (like Lucille, I enjoyed "The Notebook" very much) but am so dismayed at the current tendency for Hollywood to crank them out as if from an asseembly line. They're efficient and they meet all the prerequisites of the tried-and-true formula, but they're essentially soulless. Some critics disagreed, especially Roger Ebert who wrote an effusive and interesing review in which he cops to the fact that he loved "Letters to Juliet" not because the film itself was so good, but because it evoked his personal memories of visitng Verona with a girlfriend, of interviewing Redgrave and Franco Nero on the "Camelot" set years ago and so on.I would have to say my own personal experiences color my negative view of the film. I found Seyfried's total lack of interest in her fiance's cooking to be evidence of her insipdness. But that's likely because my own boyfriend is a sommelier by profession and a foodie by avocation, and, to me, the sweetest phrase he utters (after "I love you," of course) is "Here, taste this!" What woman wouldn't want a man who feeds her delicious cheese and pasta and wine?

Comment by Pat

"couldn't help but wonder if my doctor wanted to see the end of the game before reviewing my test results…..'LOL Pat!!!! You did scare me there, but I am sure all will be well. I loved that anecdote of your boyfriend and his propensity for cooking and a taste for cheese, wine and pasta! i have the love, but not the talent for preparation, as I am an eat-out kind of guy.Your qualifications on LETTERS are quite understandable too.Now enjoy that Stanley Cup win in the proud Windy City!!!!

Comment by Sam juliano




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