Vanessa Redgrave Shines in ‘Letters to Juliet,’ But Romantic Leads Bore

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Average: 3.8 (5 votes) Oscarman rating: 2.5/5.0
Rating: 2.5/5.0

CHICAGO – I want to live in the alternate universe where Vanessa Redgrave’s Claire is the lead of “Letters to Juliet” and the two vapid dorks who trail her on a journey of lost love can learn a lesson or two but never take the spotlight. Sadly, such is not the case with this Amanda Seyfried and Christopher Egan vehicle, a romantic drama entirely stolen from its young stars by a timeless actress.

Mostly due to Redgrave’s contributions and some gorgeous cinematography of the amazing countryside of Northern Italy, “Letters to Juliet” is never anywhere near as offensively stupid as recent excused for romance like “Leap Year” or “Valentine’s Day”. In many ways, it’s just as clichéd, predictable, and boring, but one of the best living actresses proves that she can take even a half-conceived character and completely bring her to life.

Letters to Juliet
Letters to Juliet
Photo credit: John P. Johnson and Summit

Of course, screenwriters Jose Rivera and Tim Sullivan too often send grandma to bed early and the movies drifts away from her, especially in the goofy final act. Ultimately, even Redgrave’s ample contributions can’t save the overall product from coming off like something a teenage girl would scribble on a piece of paper and pin to a wall.

The gorgeous city of Verona, Italy serves as the main setting for “Letters to Juliet” as the title refers to something literal. Below the balcony that inspired William Shakespeare to write “Romeo & Juliet,” hundreds of lovelorn women scribble their hearts out on to pieces of paper and pin them to the bricks of the wall. At the end of the day, the “Secretaries of Juliet” (a group of Italian women cliches sprung to cinematic life) collect the letters and actually respond to each of them.

A writer for The New Yorker named Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) happens upon this unusual situation when she is in Northern Italy celebrating a pre-honeymoon with husband-to-be Victor (Gael Garcia Bernal), a restauranteur who ignores the wide-eyed stunner he’s about to marry in order to find the best wines, cheeses, and recipes to take back home from Italy.

Sophie actually goes to work for the “Secretaries” and stumbles upon a letter that had been hidden behind a loose rock for the last five decades. Of course, Sophie believes that true love has no expiration date. She writes back to Claire (Redgrave), a woman who once wrote of her teenage infatuation with an Italian boy named Lorenzo Bartolini.

Letters to Juliet
Letters to Juliet
Photo credit: John P. Johnson and Summit

In a laughably brief period of time, Claire and her grandson Charlie (Christopher Egan) appear in Italy with the former inspired by Sophie to give the love of her youth one more try and the latter cynically trying to talk her out of it. Of course, Sophie and Charlie spark some chemistry and the doe-eyed blonde realizes that the career-driven man she’s about to marry may not be the one for her.

Rarely has an actress stolen every moment, scene, and line as Vanessa Redgrave does in “Letters to Juliet”. She takes a relatively minor character, one who has essentially been written as a plot device to get Seyfried and Egan together, and imbued her with a believable back story without one even being written for her. She embodies a woman who would never admit to many regrets through her life but has also always wondered “what if” when it comes to love.

Sadly, the rest of “Letters to Juliet” never lives up to Redgrave. Generic director Gary Winick (“13 Going on 30,” “Bride Wars”) pushes the story along as predictably as possible as the obviously love-cynical Charlie falls for the super-sweet Sophie. There’s nothing offensive about these characters. They’re merely boring. Egan has star potential but the part doesn’t allow him to display it and Seyfried is much better than this two-dimensional material.

It even feels as if the writers were more interested in Claire’s reignited romance than the one blooming between Sophie and Charlie. The former is represented by men on horseback, flowing wine, and proclamations of love. The latter features a couple who lie in the grass and play-fight with gelato. And, of course, it ends with a balcony set-piece that’s so ridiculous that even the crowd of willing viewers with whom I saw the film moaned at the cliched choice.

Ultimately, watching “Letters to Juliet” is like switching between a teen movie on the Disney Channel and a timeless romance on TCM. And it too often feels like a teenage girl is controlling the remote.

‘Letters to Juliet’ stars Amanda Seyfried, Christopher Egan, Gael Garcia Bernal, and Vanessa Redgrave. It was written by Jose Rivera and Tim Sullivan and directed by Gary Winick. It opened on May 14th, 2010 . It is rated PG. content director Brian Tallerico

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larry's picture

vanessa redgrave

I had assumed everyone was paying homage to Redgrave simply because of her reputation, not because of her acting in “Letters to Juliet” for crying out loud! She has lost it. She is so frail and decrepit, and her acting is so labored she made me nervous. Thankfully they figured ways to keep her out of sight. I wanted to see more Amanda Seyfried!'s picture


Couldn’t disagree more. I thought Vanessa was genuine and raw.

larry's picture


That’s just how it goes. It’s only art, not science. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.'s picture


I do agree there. :-) I felt no real chemistry between Seyfried and Egan.

larry's picture

Me neither

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