One thing that a lot of people don’t know about me is that I enjoy the occasional “chick flick.” Yes, I said it (fully knowing the consequences that this may have on my manhood), at times I do like to indulge myself in one of the countless sugar-coated and seemingly implausible romantic-comedies that flood movie theaters. Some may consider these female-driven films to be cancerous in the realm of “proper” cinema — but hey — so are the explosion-laced summer blockbusters that seem to generate more revenue with each mind-numbing “boom.”
That being said, I recently had the pleasure of seeing the Gary Wilnick helmed romantic-comedy, Letters to Juliet. Wilnick definitely has a fair amount of experience in the genre having directed Bride Wars and Flakes — both considered stinkers among the general public (though Bride Wars had a respectable theatrical run). He is also responsible for the more accepted children’s book adaptation Charlotte’s Web.
Letters to Juliet which stars Amanda Seyfried, Marcia DeBonis, Christopher Egan, and Vanessa Redgrave is neither stinker or classic (or even good cinema for that matter). It does sport a few decent performances — along with a few infuriating ones — and its plot is surely competent but the film lacks any sense of surprise. All the actions that characters make can be easily predicted and the amateurish script does not do any justice. However, Letters to Juliet profits from its cutesy romantic charm — which allows it to at least be an enjoyable viewing experience (hell, I shed a tear or two).
The film’s plot is as follows: Sophie (Amanda Seyfried), a romantic who is disillusioned with her job as a New York City fact-checker, travels to Italy with her overzealous fiancé Victor (Gael Garcia Bernal) for an early honeymoon. Of course, Victor is a busy man and plans on opening a restaurant following their wedding and his passion for culinary arts quickly overpowers his love for Sophie, who is forced to explore foreign land by herself.
During her travels, she stumbles upon the house of Juliet (supposedly). Of course, women flock from all over the world to leave letters for Juliet, asking for advice on either the passing of their love ones, marital problems, or simply heartbreak. The letters with a return address are then answered by a group of women who call themselves the “Secretaries of Juliet.” Sophie then discovers a letter written by a woman named Claire (Vanessa Redgrave), and replies. A week later, Claire’s sarcastic grandson, Charlie (Christopher Egan), finds Sophie and tells her the news that Claire is in Italy — searching for her long-lost lover.
Letters to Juliet is undoubtedly riddled with clichés. The entire plot takes and borrows from other, better romance films, but it’s also just plain sweet. Seyfried lends a decent and charismatic-enough performance and Vanessa Redgrave is easy to root for. However, the same doesn’t go for the entire cast.
Bernal’s performance as Victor is simply indescribable, actually, it’s pretty easy to put into words: Horrible, uncharismatic, and loathsome to name a few. Yes, his character is meant to be unlikable but not to this extent. Bernal is just too hyperactive for the role and the result is a character whose sheer presence ignites feelings of hatred. But at least it helps Christopher Egan’s performance to look good (though honestly, he wasn’t that good either) and makes it extremely easy to cheer for Charlie — though he is a brute.
The film’s soundtrack is equally infuriating. Consisting of mostly Italian hits (including an Italian cover of the Monkee’s song “I’m a Believer”), it definitely is fitting for the beautiful filming locations, but I couldn’t listen to Taylor Swift’s “Love Story” without thinking, “Was this really necessary?”
Letters to Juliet was engrossing enough to not induce boredom and the leads are acted well enough to care about these characters, but the film is severely flawed in many aspects — predictability being one.