May 11 2010

Letters to Juliet

Letters to Boo-liet. 1/4

Hoping to latch onto fans of Twilight and Nicholas Sparks, Letters to Juliet isn’t hopelessly romantic so much as it is just plain hopeless.  What’s more frightening is girls from the ages of 14 to young women in their mid to late twenties (or tweenties maybe?) will be coming in droves to see this saccharine disaster.

The film introduces us to Sophie (Amanda Seyfried), our doll-faced heroine who works at a New York newspaper as a “fact checker”, a delightfully vague occupation that suits the film and it’s plucky protagonist.  Sophie is a sweet, hopeless romantic from the start, yet is engaged to up-and-coming chef Victor (Gael Garcia Bernal, who must have really needed the money), who seems to love food far more than his blushing bride-to-be.

When the two head off to Italy for a “pre-honeymoon”, Sophie stumbles upon Juliet’s Wall in Verona, in which women write their romance woes to Juliet (yes, Shakespeare’s Juliet) and stick them between the cracks of the wall.  When Sophie responds to a fifty-year-old letter about a love lost, Clair (Vanessa Redgrave), the writer of the letter, returns to Italy with the hopes of being reunited with her true love from fifty years ago.

For as silly as this all sounds, Juliet’s Wall is actually a real place.  The wall is depicted here as a sanctuary for the lost and broken-hearted, populated by weeping woman who, instead of dealing with their problems head on, decide to write to a fictional character to clean their messes up for them.  It should be noted that Juliet Capulet, the fictional character from William Shakespeare’s play, was a thirteen-year-old girl who killed herself for a teenage boy she knew for about a week.

For a film about the quest for true love in one of the most beautiful places on the planet, it’s incredibly lazy.  Seyfried walks about as if she’s sleepwalking through the film, and Redgrave appears to be in some stage of dementia; the film thus follows by example.  The two somnambulists, with Claire’s cynical grandson Charlie (Christopher Egan) in tow, essentially knock on some doors hoping Clair’s long lost lover will answer, and sit in fancy cafes; that’s about it.  Even the unlikely romance between Seyfried and Egan just floats in and out like a narcoleptic Cupid.

The only thing holding the film together (relatively) is the intended desperation for a love less ordinary (or real) encapsulated by “Romeo and Juliet,” which the film references numerous times in the most heavy-handed of ways.  Although this kind of needy desire for a man is what drives films of this genre, Letters, as well as many films like it nowadays, indulges in flimsy sensationalism that inversely paints a rather demeaning portrait of it’s target demographic.

Letters displays it’s two lead female characters as victims, not by chance or fate, but of their own doing.  Sophie and Clair both live in a bubble created by their own flimsy sensibilities and flit around obstacles that lack any real conflict.  Both are shown to live for a half-realized ideal, only to abandon it for something convenient, then procede to fail upwards through an ill-conceived heroine’s journey of their own design.  It’s self-indulgent, self-absorbed, and audiences deserves better.

On the other hand, cynics will probably have a hearty laugh as they pull out their own hair, since the film could easily serve as a parody of itself with ease.  For those more inclined to find humor in the face of the ridiculous, Charlie initially acts as the sole voice of condescending reason and openly mocks Sophie and Clair’s search, as well as their fickle grasp on true love.  Unfortunately, Charlie falls victim to Sophie’s big green eyes, and is welcomed into the big dumb machine that is this film.

A suspension of disbelief has always been required for these kinds of sappy romance films.  They are designed to let people throw caution to the wind and become immersed in dramatic fantasy; they’re guilty pleasures.  That being said, Letters to Juliet is guilty for more than just sensitive sensibility; it panders to the lowest common denominator.  Whereas films like Love Story, the godmother of lovey-dovey pictures, are over-the-top in every way, Letters is a blank slate; its boring, vacant, and perfect for sad-faced victims of adolescent ego to project their own issues onto.  It doesn’t provide a place to suspend reality and reason, it requires it, demands it in order to work.  And for that, it doesn’t.

One Response to “Letters to Juliet”

  • Extramina Says:

    I was invited to a pre-release screening of this movie on April 7th. Amanda Seyfried once again plays a character named Sophie who travels to Italy with her fianc

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