14 May 2010

Letters to Juliet

Amanda Seyfried is shown in a scene from "Letters to Juliet.
Sometimes there comes a movie that is easy to nitpick—the story is overly contrived, the dialogue trite, the characters crafted a little too perfectly to fit the demands of the plot—yet it succeeds on the basis of pure delight, the optimism it emits and an earned happily-ever-after ending.

That's "Letters to Juliet," a romantic comedy starring the genre's rising "it" girl, Amanda Seyfried, and in a beautiful performance, the venerable Vanessa Redgrave. The multigenerational love story shakes up the rom-com conventions just enough to add a hint of unpredictability and weight to a blooming romance.

Seyfried, all wide eyes and expressive, innocent face, is Sophie, a fact-checker at The New Yorker who longs to be a writer. She and her fiancé, Victor (Gael Garcia Bernal), travel to Verona, Italy, on a sort of working pre-honeymoon. The distant, distracted Victor spends most of his time visiting suppliers for the restaurant he's opening back home, leaving Sophie to wander on her own.

She stumbles across the home of Juliet, Shakespeare's most famous heroine, and the lovelorn visitors who leave letters seeking her advice. One of those letters, undiscovered for 50 years, piques her interest. It's from the Englishwoman Claire, who as a teenager fell in love with an Italian boy named Lorenzo during a summer in Italy, then skipped out on a planned meeting and went home without another word.

Wanting to believe true love exists and not even time can defeat it, Sophie, as Juliet, writes a letter to Claire, giving her the advice she sought so many years ago.

Less than a week later, Claire (Redgrave), accompanied by her abrasive grandson Charlie (Christopher Egan), arrives in Verona to track down her long-lost love. Sophie joins them on a road trip through the picturesque Italian countryside, meeting many elderly Lorenzos eager to be the one Claire let get away.

For Claire, the journey is full of both excitement and trepidation. Even though she married (she is a widow) and had children, Lorenzo was the love of her life. After five decades, will he remember her? Is he married? Or even worse, is he still alive?

For Sophie, it is a chance to pursue her passion by writing about the adventure. More importantly, she desperately wants a happy ending because her own relationship with her fiancé clearly is no match for the epic love of Claire and Lorenzo.

The way Sophie and Charlie bicker leaves little doubt as to what will happen between them—it's just a matter of when and how the betrothed Sophie will react. The movie's only real failing is in the Charlie character, who is unnecessarily rude and obnoxious before making a 180-degree turn. But I can accept what happens between Charlie and Sophie given their heightened emotional states brought about by the task at hand.

Redgrave is the real star, playing the pining Claire with dignity and joy. She's the one who sells the movie's high concept.

Greg's Grade: B

(Rated PG for brief rude behavior, some language and incidental smoking. 105 minutes.)

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