Apparently Letters to Juliet is a romantic comedy. Let’s nip that in the butt right now and say that it isn’t one. This film is strictly speaking a romantic drama, with very little, if any, humor thrown in throughout. If you look at it as a romantic comedy, then it fails, and as such, I will not look at it in that regard; it just didn’t seem to try to be funny, and I don’t believe judging it as so is fair.
Now that we’ve come to the conclusion that Letters to Juliet is not attempting to be a comedy, let’s look at it as a drama. Here, it garners mixed results instead of being a complete failure. On one hand, it does do a good job at stirring up emotions, particularly in its final act. On the other though, the acting is on the weak side, the story is clichéd and the main character is moronic. Yes, I believe calling it a mixed bag is fair.
I don’t normally directly attack characters, their personalities or decisions, but in the case of Sophie (Amanda Seyfried), I feel this is more than reasonable. Her character, even after we learn about her redeeming qualities, is one that angered me. When things seem perfect, she ignores them, and conversely, when things seem wrong, she jumps head first in and embraces these situations.
This becomes clear right at the beginning of the film, when we meet Sophie and her fiancé, Victor (Gael García Bernal). They seem to be in love, and are planning a “pre-honeymoon” trip to Verona, Italy. After arriving, things don’t go the way that Sophie planned, as she is taken to wine tastings, cheese samplings, and other things that are beneficial to the chef that she is planning to marry. He is more engrossed by his work than with his future wife, making you question right away why she is with him.
Eventually, he even leaves her to go to a wine auction, allowing her to do whatever she wants around the city. She visits a wall where people leave letters to Shakespeare’s character Juliet, and at the end of the day, witnesses someone taking down the letters. She follows this person, and learns of the “secretaries of Juliet”. These people sit around a table all day, and answer the letters that people write.
Sophie befriends these people, and eventually gets to answer letters herself. She finds one letter that was put up 50 years prior, and being the incredibly sincere person that she is, she writes this person back a letter. Arriving just over a week later is the person that wrote the initial letter. Claire (Vanessa Redgrave) is her name, and she is now a grandmother, who shows up with her arrogant son, Charlie (Chris Egan).
Claire has come to Verona in hopes to find a man she fell in love with 50 years earlier. The film then splits apart, focusing on two things. The first, is Claire’s attempts and failures in finding the man she still loves, and the other is the relationship between Sophie and Charlie, which starts out as rocky, but the two quickly make up and become friends.
If what I’ve divulged about the plot up until this point makes you want to see Letters to Juliet, then go ahead and watch it, as you’ll likely enjoy it. If I haven’t piqued your interest, go on the internet, and watch the trailer. It will tell you almost everything that happens in the film, and takes out the majority of the filler that occurs during the first two-thirds of the film.
The truth of the matter is, I was fairly bored through the majority of the film. Despite this, I think this period of boredom is actually the reason why the final act works so well. As the characters go on their journey to find Claire’s long, lost lover, we get to know the characters. Claire is a character we can root for, as all she wants is to find love. We also begin to care about the other two characters. However, during the first two-thirds, there is very little emotional connection that we feel towards them.
But then the final act begins, and emotions begin to fly. Almost every scene in the last half hour has real emotional significance and importance, while still managing to be incredibly touching. Even though you’ll likely guess exactly how it ends, you may still tear up as the film concludes.
In terms of acting, Vanessa Redgrave is the only actor in the film that actually does a good job. Her performance is more subtle than everyone else, but she stands out by being the only quality actor in the film. Her subtlety is overshadowed by the rambunctious performance by Chris Egan, who takes every opportunity he can to put on an over-the-top accent that is incredibly easy to detect that he is putting it on. Seyfried and Egan also seem to have no chemistry together, making their budding relationship seem even less realistic than the script shows us.
While I wouldn’t say that the dialogue is all that poorly written, some of the lines that characters say to one another do feel out-of-place, and not much like a real person would talk. Seyfried seems to want to make it feel more realistic by adding random stutters to her performance. This doesn’t work, and instead just makes certain scenes drag on more than they should.
My thoughts about Letters to Juliet are mixed, but lean more towards the positive side of the “good-bad spectrum”. Yes, it is predictable and clichéd, but it also stirs enough of an emotional response to be rewarding by its conclusion. The first hour drags on, and the lead character doesn’t seem to be the smartest character ever, but I did end up caring about everyone involved. If you want, you can basically watch the entire film in the trailer anyway, although you will miss out on the emotions involved in the final act. I’d say give it a look if you are looking for a romance film set in Italy.