On the way out of the theatre after seeing Letters to Juliet, you’ll probably say, “That was a really stupid movie—and I loved it!” Why the seeming paradox? Thank two saving graces. Read on.
Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) is a New Yorker magazine fact-checker who wants to be a writer. She’s engaged to Victor (Gael Garcia Bernal), an ambitious restaurateur. They fly off to Tuscany for a “pre-wedding honeymoon.” Victor has the time of his life rushing off by himself to wine auctions and cheese producers.
Sophie fights her loneliness and finds herself in Verona in the plaza underneath the balcony where Shakespeare had Juliet be wooed by Romeo. For decades lovelorn women have come here, leaving letters on the stone wall seeking advice from Juliet. Sophie is amazed to learn there is a bevy of dedicated “Juliet secretaries” who actually answer the letters. After she discovers a letter that was left 50 years ago by a heartbroken English teenager, Sophie pours out her heart to the unknown woman, encouraging her to believe in true love no matter how time has interfered with it.
Lo and behold, inspired by Sophie’s letter, Claire (Vanessa Redgrave), a stylish English widow, arrives in Verona. The first saving grace has appeared—the film sparkles every moment Ms. Redgrave is on screen. Accompanying Claire like a dark umbrella is her over-protective grandson, Charlie (Christopher Egan).
Charlie hates Sophie on sight and she thinks, rightly so, that he’s an insufferable jerk. We all know they’re going to fall in love—no suspense there. Alas, there’s no chemistry either. Under Gary Winick’s (Bride War) tepid direction and the passionless script by two other clueless guys, Sophie and Charlie win the Dullest Lovers in the History of Cinema award. If there is one movie this year that needed a woman’s touch in the creative department, it’s this one.
Never fear, love lovers, there is romance in this movie—and it’s worth the wait.
Sophie, Claire and Charlie all set off on a road trip to find Claire’s long-lost sweetheart. But there are dozens of Lorenzo Bartolinis in Tuscany, so it becomes a journey of several days, thus bringing about the film’s second saving grace—the gorgeous Tuscan scenery. If you wanted to do nothing else but lose yourself in visions of Tuscan beauty, Letters to Juliet would give you your money’s worth.
One after another, Claire meets many Lorenzo Bartolinis, only to be disappointed each time. Laborer, chess player, even a duke in a castle, each one flirts outrageously with Claire—and makes every woman in the audience vow some day to get to the wonderful place where men appreciate older women. Claire and Sophie grow close, and the way Vanessa enfolds Amanda in her arms, you can’t help but imagine that she is remembering her daughter, Natasha Richardson (wife of actor Liam Neeson), who died last year.
At a large winery. Claire nearly passes out when she sees a teenage laborer—who is the spitting image of the Lorenzo of her memories. The young man’s grandfather, widower Signor Bartolini (Franco Nero), comes charging into the vineyard on horseback. He gives Claire a long look, treasuring every gray hair and wrinkle, as if not one day had passed in 50 years. Happy tears fall without shame—this is a film moment not to be missed.
By the way Claire and Lorenzo react with one another, you know they’re not acting. Because in real life Vanessa and Franco fell in love 43 years ago on the set of Camelot (1967), when she played Guinevere and he was Lancelot. They separated, then reunited four years ago and married at long last.