I have a strange relationship with Vanessa Redgrave. Though I like her between films I remember her talent with more of a slight detachment than any passionate love (still, Katharine H. did single her out as the greatest of her generation). It is such that every time I see her on screen I fall in love with her again. Case in point: Letters to Juliet.
For some reason, when Letters to Juliet ended, I found myself suppressing all the trite, bland and uninspired bits and focusing only on the lovely bits. This was odd, because there was more of the former than of the latter. The world that Letters To Juliet creates for itself is so maddening (and silly) at times that I can’t help but be annoyed with it. This is odd, because the film is so innocent and even saccharine throughout that such that such thoughts seem almost offensive. The best way to put it: Letters to the Juliet is a ridiculously sweet bonbon bookended (at the beginning and the end) by cinematic conventions that are sadly quite uninspired.
Sophie goes to Italy with her boyfriend, played by Gael Garcia Bernal. The two are on odd couple on paper as much as on screen (the role was originally Hugh Dancy's). We know from the instant we see him chattering effusively that this relationship is not meant to be (this is not a spoiler, folks). Of course, his only fault is not being Sophie's destined lover – or maybe it’s loving food more than her, either way he’s not “the one”. In Italy Sophie happens the alleged house of Juliet Capulet. Hundreds of love struck women from across the globe paste letters on the wall that are answered by “Juliet’s Secretary” who offer romantic advice. By happenstance, a letter that is fifty year old arrives in heroines hand and she responds. Here the conceits only grow. Not only is the Claire, woman, alive but she is surprisingly living at the same address for fifty years. She arrives in toe with her grandson (could this be “the one”) and because of Sophie’s letter decides to search for a man she had give up on for fifty years. More contrivances arrive, Claire allows herself to traverse through Italy looking for this man, which is something Vanessa manages to make plausible.
Letters to the Juliet biggest fault is going for the money and not for the heart; as far as I can see really. I can imagine that Amanda Seyfried will sell more tickets than Vanessa Redgrave on a movie poster, but the arc concerning the luminous Ms. Redgrave is more fulfilling even though it’s not exactly fresh. There is no overstatement when I say that Ms. Redgrave is possibly one of the ten most talented thespians alive and her ability to breathe life into even the most contrived of cinematic clichés makes her even more worthy to me. Then there’s the fact that she shares a certain amount of time with Franco Nero the father of one of her three children that makes me a little too emotionally invested in the film.
As the third act looms, though, and Vanessa leaves the story (momentarily) all my feelings of appreciation are gone. Not because Amanda Seyfried is not talented (she is), but she’s not talented enough to carry a film on her shoulders alone. We know she and her boyfriend will part, amicably because he’s not an officious boor (just wrong for her). certain plot machinations will make for a few mistakes then an absolute union with the man of her dreams, yada yada ya.
It is a sweet movie in its way, but not good enough; and I find Chris Egan's performance so insufferably boorish (and that accent, oi!). I was seduced by Ms. Redgrave, but Letters to Juliet is not as good as she pretends it is. But, god bless her, the woman is a treasure to the screen, she can sell any thing.
Letters to Juliet: C
Ms. Redgrave in Letters to Juliet: B+
Ms. Redgrave’s Talent: Priceless