The Taylor Swift song "Love Story" plays over the trailer for this movie, and as Letters To Juliet reaches its climax, the lyrics "You'll be the prince and I'll be the princess/It's a love story, baby, just say yes" thunder out over scenes of rolling Italian fields. If you don't like that song, you won't like the film. It is packed with hackneyed one-liners about believing in true love, destiny and happy endings that sound much like the country singer's choruses.
Just as Swift finds it hard to imbue her songs with passion, sounding instead as though she were reciting the contents of her to-do list, this film plays out with little conviction. The actor's voices trail off at the end of their lines, fill spaces up with "hmmms" and "yeahs" and otherwise lack focus. Their eyes are always settled just off screen, like how trained animals concentrate on the treat-waving trainer. One imagines the stars' agents holding up plates of pasta and glasses of wine, willing their clients to make it through to the next scene. In a way we can't blame them, surrounded by beautiful scenery, making this movie must have seemed like a terrible way to ruin a perfectly good vacation.
Amanda Seyfried is Sophie, a fact checker for The New Yorker with writing aspirations, who goes to Verona with her fiancé, a chef who is more passionate about food than her, and discovers the Juliet club - a group of women who respond to letters from those asking for the Shakespearian character's romantic advice. This is true, such a club exists, but certain facts are changed in order for the truth to be more like truthiness. It seems somewhat odd that anyone would ask Juliet for advice considering her own love life took a turn for the very worse, and that, of course, she's a fictional character. However, Sophie discovers a letter written 50 years ago and decides to respond to the older English lady, Vanessa Redgrave, telling her to up sticks and go in search of the boy she loved as a teenager studying painting in Tuscany.
Claire arrives in Verona with a grandson who manages to be an even bigger cliché than the chef with the phony Italian accent - Gael Garcia Bernal hitting an all-time low. Christopher Egan, as Charlie, makes his big-time debut with a terribly good English accent for an Australian, but fails to suggest having any interest in Amanda Seyfried. Since Mamma Mia! the actress appears to have monopolized the market, appearing in three films already this year, none of which required her to do much more than open her eyes really big and hide beneath her hair. This is a shame, since she was brilliant in Mean Girls - yes, she plays the dumb one - and was convincingly batty in Mamma Mia! The pair looks entirely awkward together, like two teenagers thrust together by their chummy parents.
Director Gary Winick made one of the best romantic comedies out there, 13 Going On 30, so maybe a combination of the landscape and the wine overwhelmed him. Every other scene has a glass of red or white in the foreground, and the final moments are set in a vineyard, so it really isn't that huge a leap to think that maybe they were all just very, very drunk.
Letters To Juliet
Starring Amanda Seyfried, Christopher Egan, Vanessa Redgrave. Directed by Gary Winick