In the film Letters to Juliet, Amanda Seyfried (see previous article on Associated Content) comes of age as the bride rather than always playing the bridesmaid. Cast in most films as the best friend, Seyfried portrays Sophie Hall, a young “New Yorker” magazine (boss is Oliver Platt) fact-checker who travels to Italy with her boyfriend (Gail Garcia Bernal) and finds true love. The true love she finds is not her boyfriend, however, as any veteran moviegoer will suspect is going to be the case in this romantic travelogue.
The title refers to the practice begun by Ettore Solimani in 1937 of replying to the love letters left at the Juliet memorial in Verona, Italy. As many as 7,000 letters a year come in from the love-lorn asking for advice, and, in real life, twelve secretaries answer them. (2 are men). It’s even possible to send them by e-mail at [email protected] or to snail mail them addressed to “Juliet, Verona, Italy.” (“People,” May 24, 2010, “Dear Juliet,” Lise and Ceil Friedman).
In the film, Sophie Hall (Amanda Seyfried) and her soon-to-be husband Victor (Gael Garcia Bernal) take a “pre-honeymoon” trip to Italy, since Victor will soon open a restaurant in New York City. Victor is the kind of fiancée who seems like he has ADHD or some other ailment that renders him overly effusive about everything.
No matter what the comment, Victor would exclaim as though it were the Second Coming. After about 10 minutes, it became very irritating. One wondered what Sophie’s character found so charming about him, especially since his workaholic tendencies immediately manifested themselves and he was off to this wine auction or that vineyard, leaving Sophie to amuse herself in gorgeous Italian locations like Siena, Tuscany, Soave, and Verona.
In Verona at Juliet’s balcony Sophie follows the girl gathering the letters to Juliet and discovers the women assigned to answer them (reduced in number for the film version, and all female). They ask her if she is the English translator sent to help them, and soon allow her to pitch in and help answer with advice for the love-lorn.
As typical cinematic luck would have it, Sophie also discovers a letter long-hidden behind a loose brick, which turns out to be from Claire Smith (Vanessa Redgrave) of England. Sophie answers Claire’s 50-year-old letter, looking for the love of her life Lorenzo Bartolini. Claire and her grandson Charlie, whom she raised, come to Verona looking for a love from Claire’s past, whom she knew when only 15.
One of the flaws in the film occurs when Sophie is asked by the letter-writers if she is the English translator, since all of them seem to speak perfect English. Another is trying to pass Vanessa Redgrave off as being 65, when she is actually 73.
Redgrave is more than equal to the task of portraying Claire, being the only actress to win an Oscar, an Emmy, a Tony,won at Cannes, a Golden Globe and a Screen Actors’ Guild Award, but she does not appear to be 65 years young. Why couldn’t she be 73, as she really is?
Her grandson, Charlie, as played by Christopher Egan, who resembles a younger Ryan Philippe looks good, but he moves gracelessly and has about as much charm as a pet goldfish.
If Victor was annoying in his effervescence, Charlie is equally unlikable in his cold fish British way. There is even a scripted line when Charlie says of his Grandmother Claire, who raised him, “She took the angry obnoxious young man I was and turned me into the simply unpleasant type I am today.” I couldn’t have put it better; I’m still wondering why Sophie, with her double major from Brown (with a minor in Latin), her writing talent, and her good sense finds either of these guys attractive.
What makes the film fascinating is watching Vanessa Redgrave reunited onscreen with Franco Nero, her real-life husband since 2006. Since most of the film from the point that Claire and Charlie show up involves Sophie riding with them to find the love of Claire’s young life, whom she lost 50 years ago (should have made it more like 60 years ago), we know that eventually that individual will be found. The fact that it is Franco Nero, a handsome, well-preserved 69 years young, just makes the film ring truer.
A little history: Vanessa Redgrave was married to Director Tony Richardson from 1962 until 1967 (children Joely and Natasha were from that union), but he left her for French actress Jeanne Moreau in 1967. Vanessa met Franco Nero while playing Queen Guinevere in 1967’s “Camelot” and the two produced a son, Carlo Gabriel Nero. However, their paths drifted apart, and Vanessa Redgrave was with Timothy Dalton (of the ’87 and ’89 James Bond films “License to Kill” and “The Living Daylights”) from 1971 through 1986.)
It was only after 37 years, in their case, that Vanessa Redgrave and Franco Nero rediscovered each other and rekindled their great romance, marrying on New Year’s Eve of 2006. In fact, it was Franco Nero who gave away the recently departed Natasha Richardson when she married Liam Neeson.
It is perfect casting to have the two reunited lovers played by two real-life reunited lovers when lines like, “People want to believe in love” and “I didn’t know that true love had an expiration date” resound throughout the film, courtesy of screenwriters Jose Rivera and Tim Sullivan. Gary Winick directed the film; Ellen Barkin was one of the film’s producers.
For me, the gorgeous scenery, very reminiscent of Diane Lane’s “Under the Tuscan Sun” or Keanu Reeves’ film “A Walk in the Clouds,” was a great treat, and the female leads were fine (although I do have the previously noted comment about Redgrave trying to play 65.)
However, both of the male leads were lacking. Hugh Dancey was originally supposed to play the Victor lead or maybe things would have been different. I’d never seen Christopher Egan, who plays Charlie, before. Not only does Charlie come off as stiff and unlikeable throughout, there is almost no reason to believe that the two will fall madly in love, when they have only one chaste kiss while lying side-by-side on the grass looking up at the stars.
The use of the song “Love Story” (Taylor Swift) in one park scene is a wonderful musical selection and the phrases, “When we’re speaking about love, it’s never too late’ and “If what you felt then was true love, why shouldn’t it be true now?” will probably spice up some high school reunions this season. The main reason to see the film, however, is the scenery and the performance by Amanda Seyfried, finally coming into her own as a leading lady. Be warned: the day I saw it at a matinee, there was not one single man in the packed house.