Letters to Juliet

Starring Amanda Seyfried, Vanessa Redgrave, Christopher Egan and Gael Garcia Bernal. Directed by Gary Winick.
Rated PG (infrequent coarse language). 105 mins.

The Juliet in question is the beloved of Shakespeare’s Romeo, and the letters of the title are notes left by young women visiting the supposed Capulet house in Verona. Addressed to Juliet and seeking advice on romantic problems, the letters stuck to the wall below the balcony are later collected by a group of romantically inclined women known as “secretaries of Juliet”, who send off replies to the writers.

This seems quite a nice premise for a movie romance, but Gary Winick’s film doesn’t capitalise on it.  The storyline concocted by writers Jose Rivera and Tim Sullivan would stretch credulity in a soap opera, and Winick’s sluggish direction compounds the problem. The movie lacks energy and dawdles listlessly where it might have been funny or cute or, preferably, both.

It begins in Manhattan, where Sophie (Amanda Seyfried), a fact-checker at The New Yorker magazine who aspires to be a writer, is about to set off with her fiancé Victor (Gael Garcia Bernal) on a “pre-wedding honeymoon” to romantic Verona. Once there, however, Sophie tires of Victor’s preoccupation with visiting his Italian business contacts and strikes out on her own to see the sights.

At Juliet’s house she stumbles on the existence of the secretaries and she volunteers to help them out. Then a loose brick in the wall reveals a letter written 50 years ago by an Englishwoman who loved an Italian boy but lacked the courage at the time to seize her opportunity for true love.

Sophie’s reply to the letter brings its writer, Claire (Vanessa Redgrave), hot-footing it to Verona accompanied by her disapproving grandson Charlie (Christopher Egan). Sophie meets them and, leaving her fiancé to pursue his interests, joins their quest to find Lorenzo Bartolini, the boy Claire left behind (now a grandfather and played by Franco Nero).

The Claire-Lorenzo storyline is not without interest, but it has to take second place to the silly developing romance between Sophie and Charlie.  It’s obvious from their first scenes together that Sophie and the self-obsessed Victor are ill-suited as a couple, but the character of Charlie is such an upper-class prig that switching her attention to him seems like a leap from frying pan to fire.

The movie is never convincing, and the performances of Mamma Mia! girl Seyfried and Home and Away alumnus Egan fall short in the charisma department (although Egan sports a creditable enough pommy-twit accent). One supposedly endearing scene between them, in which they smack one another in the face with cones of gelati, is simply ridiculous. Veteran Redgrave gives one of her dreamy performances as if she is not quite sure what film she is in — but then, the direction overall is pretty slack so it fits.
Finest contributor is cinematographer Marco Pontecorvo, whose location camerawork in Verona, Sienna and surrounding countryside is quite stunning. Sensibly, the movie includes eye-catching tourist-brochure scenes at every opportunity.

The absence of sexual content and offensive language may well give it some appeal to an undemanding audience looking for a ‘nice’ romantic story.

Out May 13

Mr Jim Murphy is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.


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