May 28, 2010

Letters to Juliet

letterstojuliet1_largeThis is a sappy melodramatic romance. It is the sort of film made for a certain audience, you know who you are. It is a movie that is not meant to be great, it is just there to fill a need. In this case it serves to soften the palette after a spring of bloodshed, hard stares, and big stunts in the likes of Kick Ass, The Losers, Iron Man 2, and Robin Hood. It is a slice of counter programming that not only plays to the non-action, non-blockbuster crowd, but also to those genre fans looking to get a glimpse of the other side, the chance to watch a movie that is not meant to get your adrenaline flowing, rather it sets out to soothe the soul and give a touch of hope and good will. Does it succeed? Somewhat. 



Letters to Juliet is a sweet-natured film that exists in an alternate reality where money is no object, jobs are non-existent or only work to serve the plot, and the people involved are all attractive and either hopelessly romantic or eternally clueless. So, bear that in mind when you judge the believability of this film. In a strictly realistic sense this movie is completely removed from reality; however, taken for the flight of fantasy that it is and everything begins to fall into place.

Amanda Seyfried stars as Sophie, an American on vacation in Verona, Italy, with her fiance Victor (Gael Garci Bernal). The two are vacationing as something of a pre-wedding honeymoon. You see, Victor is a chef preparing to open his own restaurant.



letterstojulietpic4


With Victor taking some time to track down restaurant suppliers, Sophie does some sight seeing of her own. She visits Juliet's balcony, the place that is said to be the fictional character's home. Each year thousands of women go to the alley outside the home and stick notes to the wall regarding their matters of the heart. Sophie is intrigued by this and witnesses as a woman comes by with a basket and collects all of the letters.

This leads Sophie to her meeting with the Secretaries of Juliet, which is a real group. They take these letters and answer all of those that have return addresses. The friendly secretaries offer to let Sophie stick around and help their volunteer efforts while Victor is otherwise engaged. Thus begins the travelogue portion of the film.

A fifty-year old letter is found and Sophie chooses to answer it. Before you know it, Charlie (Christopher Egan) shows up at their door demanding to know who wrote to his grandmother. In the real world something else would have happened, the letter's intended recipient would no longer be at the same address, it would be ignored, or a call would be made. This being a romantic flight of fancy requires that the characters meet and engage in some sort of repartee before beginning their adventure. So, there we have the clearly irritable and elitist Charlie and his grandmother, Claire (Vanessa Redgrave), and Sophie. A few lines after their meeting they are off to find her long lost love.



letterstojulietpic5


This is the third film this year to play a little like a travelogue, following Leap Year's gorgeous tour of Ireland and When in Rome with its look at the Italian city. It is an element that it uses to its advantage. Why not? If you are going to take us overseas you better be sure to prove it. Letters to Juliet does a fine job of showing us some beautiful Italian scenery along the way. This is due to our characters acting in the opposite fashion than the real world. Instead of using the phone book to find the, you know, numbers, they gather the addresses of everyone named Lorenzo Bartolini and head out on the road.

I am not going to detail what happens on the road, but it is pretty standard. I am sure you all know what to expect from this movie. It is not the sort of movie that is designed to keep you in suspense. It is designed to access the romantic portions of your mind. You do not need to over think the process, just look at what is happening and the conclusion will become apparent. Letters to Juliet banks its success on your ability to like the characters and become invested in their lives and relationships.

The film is moderately successful. The characters more or less make sense as presented. The biggest thing I had to keep in mind was that we are only being given a glimpse into their lives. We are not allowed full access to their relationships. This being the case, it is interesting to see how Victor is portrayed. The character is presented a pretty much one dimensional and self involved, very easy to paint him as a villain. However, while the relationship is ultimately not the right one for either, he is far from a villain. The problem is that although they are supposedly on a vacation, he is also still neck deep in restaurant preparations and in order to be successful he has to be involved and give that a lot of his attention. They are a victim of timing.




letterstojulietpic11


What is also interesting is the relationship that develops between Sophie, who clearly has strong feelings for Victor, and Charlie, who seems to be the irritable sort but still possesses a heart beneath the prickly exterior as he is ultimately trying to protect his grandmother. Are they right for each other? I am not so sure, but they are more right for each other in this moment than they are not right for each other, if that makes sense.

While Sophie may be the central protagonist and Amanda Seyfried the film's star, the real heart and soul is contained within Claire and Vanessa Redgrave. There is something about her presence, the ease with which she plays the character that is utterly endearing and feels so very real. There is a truth in her quest for lost love that speaks to the timelessness of the emotion while simultaneously not invalidating the love she had in between that gave her her family. What makes them film even more interesting is the real life love between Redgrave and her Lorenzo Bartolini, Franco Nero. Nero plays Bartolini as a charismatic Italian straight out of classic cinema. In real life Redgrave and Nero met in their youth and fell in love, but did not marry until forty years later. Seeing the two on screen, even with only cursory knowledge of their lives, just takes it to another level. Redgrave and Nero bring so much life and genuine emotion to the screen that it is hard to deny them.

Bottomline. Not a great movie by any stretch, but it is one that is mostly effective. It is hard to hate on a movie that seems to have its heart in the right place. Just as we have a place for unrealistic action films, sometimes we need to let an unrealistic romance past the gates. I like Letters to Juliet. It worked for me. Give it a chance. You may just like it.

Recommended.


Share

1 comments:

Post a Comment