Sunny, travelogue romantic dramas like Letters to Juliet are meant to be fantasies. But when you add an actress with real presence to the mix, it’s amazing how much more genuine it can feel.
That actress is not Amanda Seyfried, who’s nevertheless perfectly serviceable as Sophie, a young woman aspiring to be a writer while working as a fact-checker for The New Yorker. Her fiancé, Victor (Gael García Bernal), a chef about to open his own restaurant, takes her on a “pre-honeymoon” to Italy that actually becomes a business trip for him. That leaves Sophie plenty of time to discover the “secretaries of Juliet,” who answer lovelorn missives to Shakespeare’s heroine left at a Verona tourist attraction.
It is through a 50-year-old letter that Sophie meets a widowed Englishwoman named Claire (Vanessa Redgrave)—and that we get a real soul to this story. After Sophie replies to her youthful lament about leaving behind the Italian boy she loved as a teenage student studying abroad, Claire decides to seek out her “Lorenzo Bertollini,” accompanied by grandson Charlie (Christopher Egan) and Sophie. Redgrave invests the character with a breath of re-discovered youth, and she provides some simply lovely, effortless acting moments. She makes you believe in a woman living a fantasy she’d long ago concluded was impossible.
There’s not nearly as much reason to care about Sophie’s budding relationship with Charlie, which naturally begins with near-instantaneous mutual disdain. Both performers are a bit too callow for their story to amount to anything more than pretty people in a pretty setting, and their connection often seems superficial. Yet somehow their romance acquires more significance simply by proximity to Redgrave’s sublime performance. It’s easy to believe that they both learn what following your heart looks like from Claire, when we see that heart so boldly worn on Redgrave’s sleeve.
LETTERS TO JULIET
Amanda Seyfried, Vanessa Redgrave