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Letters to Juliet

I don’t have any statistics to back me up, but I’m fairly certain the most abundant genre of film is the romantic comedy. It seems every couple of weeks I’m sitting through one. I also (again with no statistics) believe it fares the poorest. No other genre manages to be as tired as the traditional rom-com. Most merely come up with some far fetched, arbitrary scenario that set it up as unique, but the stories always follow suit. Letters to Juliet is the latest of these examples.

It’s the story of a girl named Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) who is on her way to Italy with her chef fiancé, but once there, his passion for cooking overtakes him and they end up spending their visit apart. While he is off learning the secrets of Italian cuisine, she makes her way to a courtyard where people seek love advice through writing letters to Juliet, one half of the fictional duo Romeo & Juliet. She becomes intrigued by the thought and eventually joins up with a local group of gals who write back, dubbed the “secretaries” of Juliet. But when she returns a letter written 50 years ago, she finds herself face to face with the writer, Claire (Vanessa Redgrave) and her less enthusiastic grandson Charlie (Christopher Egan) and embarks on a journey with her to find her one true love.

Really, Letters to Juliet is two stories in one. One is really terrific and the other is painful. Claire’s story of everlasting love, even after being apart for 50 years, is a wonder to behold and Redgrave gives a performance that will instantly consume you. She’s radiant in the role. The other story—the oh so obvious “will she or won’t she fall in love with the handsome grandson?”—is a disaster of proportions I haven’t seen in quite some time. Unfortunately, it’s the centerpiece of the film.

Outside of the unbelievable lack of chemistry between the two stars, the love that develops between Sophie and Charlie feels inauthentic and forced. Charlie, for starters, is a maniacal, self absorbed jerk. The venomous words he spews at Sophie upon first meeting are things you wouldn’t hear life long enemies say to each other. He has become so upset that she wrote back to his grandmother that he holds her in contempt, constantly using his uppity British persona to degrade her at every chance he gets. He’s one of the most unpleasant leading characters I’ve ever seen in a romantic comedy.

Yet she falls for him. If there was ever an argument that girls are into jerks (which you’ll hear occasionally from so called “nice guys”), this is it. Naturally, he changes his tune once he realizes he loves her back, but the flip is sudden with no hint at previous interest. It happened as quickly as a snap of the finger and we’re supposed to buy it. I don’t think so.

It’s really a shame because the underlying story of Claire truly is charming. Had the stories been flipped, Claire’s being the more prominent, I would most likely be giving out a recommendation. But if that story were taken away, you’d be stuck with a handful of decent chuckles and little else.

It’s an odd concoction, a marvelous tale that celebrates love mixed with an abomination that bastardizes it, but there’s simply no other way to describe Letters to Juliet.

Letters to Juliet receives 2/5

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