If it's crap ... We'll tell you
Let's see. There's Under the Tuscan Sun, 'Mamma Mia!', 'Eat Pray Love' and 'Letters to Juliet'...hmmn.
This is leading me to the distinct conclusion that the new trend in chick-flicks is having them double as travelogues of the Italian countryside.
Sophie (Amanda Seyfried), a fact checker at The New Yorker magazine and her fiancé, Victor (Gael García Bernal), who's about to open an Italian restaurant in downtown New York go on a "pre-honeymoon" to Verona, Italy.
Once there Victor is preoccupied with finding the best wines and cheeses for his restaurant, much to Sophie's whiny disappointment. While he is out one day, Sophie goes sightseeing and stumbles upon an age-old superstition whereby people seeking advice in matters of the heart leave letters in the courtyard
posted on the wall of the house where Juliet Capulet (of "Romeo & Juliet" fame) supposedly lived. When a young Italian woman gathers the letters into a straw basket Sophie follows her to a restaurant where the woman meets with three other women, who reveal themselves to be "Juliet's secretaries". These women write back to each of the letters. Fascinated by this, Sophie helps the secretaries take the letters. Behind a loose brick Sophie discovers it is a letter from 1957 written by an English woman named "Claire" who fell in love with a "Lorenzo Bartolini". The letter explains how when Lorenzo asked Claire to run away with him she didn't show up but wrote to Juliet about it. Sophie is touched and even though there's little chance of anything happening to affect a (or even reach) the real person some 50+ years after the fact, Sophie writes back to Claire.
A few days later, an angry Englishman, Charlie (Chris Egan), arrives in Verona giving Sophie a piece of his mind because her response to Claire-his grandmother (Vanessa Redgrave) - has her now there on a quest to find her long lost love, 'Lorenzo". Sophie asks to meet Claire, and it isn't long before the three decide to embark on
a journey to find all the Lorenzo Bartolinis near Siena, Italy. It also isn't long before Sophie finds herself stumbling into a new romance of her own.
Wait! Wasn't Sophie ENGAGED??????
This is one of those romantic comediess that separates the boys from the girls. If you ask me, 'Sophie' is one of the worst girlfriends in the world. Running a successful new restaurant (especially in somewhere like New York where there's so much competition) is one of the most stressful things a human being could try to do. It is the
height of selfishness to have her fiancee, Victor, take her on any kind of trip a week before the opening- and then be surprised and exasperated that he's distracted??? He takes her on a journey off the beaten tourist trap path to experience all of the little known, VERY BEST wine and cheeses that Italy has to offer. But rather than relish this unique experience, she bitches about it, mopes when Victor is happy that she finds her own thing, and while he's out doing research, building for their future, she falls in love with another guy!
But most of the women I've talked to don't see it that way. They never move pass the fact that Victor "ignored" Sophie and give her a pass. I would've liked if 'Letters to Juliet' could've been complex enough to address both points of view. I also would've managed to avoid so many of it's cliches. Mainly the one where despite the fact that 'Charlie' is an unmitigated asshole throughout 3/4 of the movie, he and Sophie fall in love- seemingly by virtue of being the only two blond twenty-somethings within proximity of each other for a few days (ostensibly the only two in Italy).
You'd think that having just recorded an episode of LEOG denouncing such hackneyed tropes that I'd have hated 'Letters to Juliet', yet I still manage to have more positive than negative feelings about it. I'm sure that part of it is that it was released just months on the heels two much worse romantic comedies:
Amanda Seyfried is no Amy Adams, but she is charming enough to make 'Sophie' a likable heroine eventually.
Even newbie, Chris Egan (looking like the love child of Ryan Phillipe and Matt Damon) is enjoyable when he's in 'prick-mode' and later when he becomes a lovesick puppy dog, it's just the transformation from one to the other that's too abrupt. However, the backbone of the story is Claire's fanciful mission to find the true 'Lorenzo Bartolini'.
Turns out that in Verona, Italy that name is about as common as say "Chris Smith" here in America, so most of the hijinks come from the awkward situations of finding the wrong Lorenzos. It's the kind of screwball shenanigans that tend to be annoying in contemporary movies but I give full credit to a veteran like Vanessa Redgrave (who can do
no wrong in my book) for making 'Claire' real. She makes the trip fun, as if it is all just a weeklong folly...except, the stakes are high. when you stop and think about it. It pulls at your heartstrings to think that she'll have to leave Italy broken-hearted a second time.
Sadly, even though Letters to Juliet manages to rise above the low point where it started by the very end it crashes right back down there again. It's not enough that you'll have no problem guessing how it ends but it throws in some last minute banalities just to pander to the most hardcore romcom junkies. As romantic comedies go, there ain't a whole lot of comedy either. I actually saw this as a good thing, since it's the one place where it's better than trying really hard and failing miserably.
Letters to Juliet is one of the new crop of blu-rays that's a DVD on the other side. I suppose it's great if (like me) you have a blu-ray player in one room and only a DVD player in the other and certainly cheaper than a pack with both in it, but these disks that play on both sides have always made me nervous because of how much more prone they are to getting scratched. It also tends to mean that it's light on the number of extra features:
LETTERS TO JULIET Single-Disc Blu-ray/DVD