If you happened to listen to the first installment of Elitist Bastards Go to the Movies, a new podcast featuring Ken Hanke and myself available on the Mountain Xpress Web site, you may recall that we predicted the biggest problem with Gary Winick’s Letters to Juliet would likely be that its trailer gave away the entire movie in about 90 seconds. Now, a couple of days after having actually sat through the film—and with as little bragging as possible—I can say we were spot on.
If you’ve seen the trailer, you know the film follows a young American girl named Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) who is vacationing in Verona with her somewhat distracted fiancé Victor (Gael García Bernal). After finding a dusty, old letter left at the home of the fictional Juliet, Sophie is inspired to help an aging Brit named Claire (Vanessa Redgrave) and her chagrined grandson Charlie (Christopher Egan, Eragon) track down the lady’s old flame from 50 years earlier.
And if you’ve seen the trailer, you also know that Sophie becomes dissatisfied with her soon-to-be hubbie, begins to fall for Charlie, all while Claire finds her lost love. You’ve also seen the whole movie. Now, I hate to disparage a film based solely on its trailer, something that has zero to do with the film on a practical level. But at the same time, it’s a symptom of something greater, since even if I had never laid eyes on the film’s trailer, within the first 20 minutes of the movie I still could’ve figured out how Letters to Juliet would pan out. It’s the kind of predictable reserved solely for Hollywood romances.
Efforts are made to shake things up here and there, but they’re mostly cosmetic. There’s at least an attempt at the tried-and-true witty repartee that’s been a staple of the Hollywood romance flick for ages, but it never quite gels. A lot of this is due to casting. Seyfried could probably have pulled this kind of role off, except she has no one to play against. Bernal is at best wasted and at worst—very, very worst—turned into a woundup Bronson Pinchot clone, while Egan lacks the charisma or magnetism to be convincing as a smarmy-yet-likable romantic lead. The screenplay is no help, since these are the kind of inherently off-putting movie types who can leave the country for weeks on end with no real-world repercussions whatsoever. At the very least, they could have been stylish, but the film can’t even afford them that. Instead, we get a cast of dull, drab characters, with nothing unique, conspicuous or exceptional about the lot of them.
Letters to Juliet plays it safe throughout its entire running time. Sure, it’s an easy way to make a harmless little movie, but it’s also the quickest route to being forgotten. Rated PG for brief rude behavior, some language and incidental smoking.