Is Gary Winick atoning for his sins? If Bride Wars
was an acid spill – and that’s putting it generously – then Letters to Juliet
is like the safety shower in your high school chemistry class, delivering an unsubtle blast of sanitized sentimentality. Nothing here is meant to raise pulses or ruffle feathers; even the opening credits, featuring depictions of history’s great lovers, glide along with all the gentle placidity of a screensaver. And yet it very nearly overcomes its limited ambition as a summer months’ weepie to become something very special. There is a lovely little arthouse movie buried in here – something in the vein of Enchanted April
, say – but it’s been dimmed by Winick’s commercial instincts. Mamma Mia!
’s Seyfried, radiating a quick cleverness, plays Sophie, an aspiring journalist who travels with her chef fiancé, Victor (Bernal), to Verona, Italy, for a prewedding getaway. Italy excites and inspires both of them; trouble is, different excitements, different enthusiasms. Victor hits the road in search of Tuscan food treasures, while Sophie stumbles onto a career-making story with the real-life Club di Giulietta, a kindly cabal of older Italian women who handwrite replies to the thousands of lovelorns penning cri di coeurs to Verona’s most famous Shakespearean lover, Juliet. Sophie’s story brings her into contact with seventysomething Claire (Redgrave), a British widow who has returned to Italy to find her first love, Lorenzo, and Claire’s disapproving grandson Charlie (Egan). The two actresses bring contrasting but not clashing styles: Seyfried is all energy and efficiency, while Redgrave – her luminosity cut with melancholy – has the habit of holding her long limbs absentmindedly and at odd angles, as if she has worried herself into idle. It’s a disappointment if not exactly a surprise when the attraction between Claire and Charlie comes to dominate the bottom half of the film (Egan, from the overlooked NBC drama Kings
, is not only miscast, he’s misstyled, all oven-baked and swimming in oversized blazers and pants). Still, one can appreciate that writers Jose Rivera and Tim Sullivan resist the all too common tack of demonizing the ditched-partner in order to justify said ditching. Everyone here acts, more or less, like a grownup. Does that raise pulses? Not in the least. But what’s so awful about taking a breather? It’s enough to bask in the pastoral prettiness and the unexpected harmony of Seyfried and Redgrave.