Sunday, November 7, 2010

Even If The Trailers Hadn't Been So Revealing, Letters To Juliet Would Still Suck.

The Good: Cinematography
The Bad: Lame character work, Terrible plot, Predictability, Overbearing soundtrack, Stiff acting.
The Basics: Dreadfully dull, poorly presented and utterly unimaginative, Letters To Juliet is a big cinematic splat which does not deserve the time or attention of viewers.

I'll admit it: sometimes, I go to a movie screening with a prejudice about a film. Yes, it happens to the best of us and the truth is, it happened to me recently. The only surprise for me was that I wasn't prejudiced enough! Allow me to explain. The film is Letters To Juliet and I had seen the preview for it at least four times in the course of seeing other movies in the recent past. If you have not seen the preview trailer, avoid it at all costs: the entire movie is in the trailer. I don't just mean that metaphorically; the last scenes of the film are featured surprisingly heavily in the preview trailer. I picked that up right away and figured Letters To Juliet would just be a cheap knockoff of Amanda Seyfried's last romantic film, Dear John (click here for that review!) and I was already whittling a slot for a below average film in my listings.

But no, after joining a slew of other people for a free Mother's Day showing of the film, I can't find anything redeeming about this. This film deserves to be righteously panned. What I hadn't counted on in seeing the preview trailer was that the filler (i.e. the rest of the movie not contained in the trailer) would contain not just less inspired pieces of filmmaking, but actually vastly worse dialogue, characterization, acting and plot development. Letters To Juliet is arguably the most soulless romance movie I have ever seen and even if I had not seen the preview trailer I - like anyone with an intelligence above that of a second grade American student - would have been able to call the end. This might be the attempt on the part of the studios to offer an alternative to the big-budget special effects films, but, alas, it is quite simply not good.

Sophie is excited beyond belief for her impending wedding and as the big day approaches for the fact-checker, she and her fiance do a pre-wedding honeymoon to Verona. Her fiance, Victor, has different ideas about the pre-honeymoon as he is a restaurateur whose big opening is coming in the days following the wedding. On the trip, as Sophie longs to visit museums and concerts and other cultural events, Victor packs his days with meeting distributors, vintners and chefs who give him secrets to making his restaurant a success. So, while lonely and wandering in Verona, Sophie comes across the courtyard of Juliet and finds women there writing to Juliet about their Romeos. She follows a woman at the end of the day to a nearby building where four women respond to the letters to Juliet. While investigating the letter-writing phenomenon, Sophie uncovers a letter that is over fifty years old and she decides she wants to respond to it.

Her response brings Charlie Wyman into Sophie's life. Charlie is not thrilled about the response that his grandmother, Claire received and he arrives to chastise Sophie. However, Sophie becomes intrigued and soon she, Claire and Charlie are on a road trip to find Claire's long lost Lorenzo. Along the way predictability ensues and Sophie and Charlie come to realize something about themselves and each other which changes their futures.

Letters To Juliet is not only insanely predictable, but it is set up such that it is utterly unpleasant. Sophie is neglected by Victor from the very start and his enthusiasm for his work is so consuming that he expresses no real passion for anything or anyone else. Victor is not a relationship type guy. He's not even trying to balance his work and his love. Instead, he is only passionate about his work. He does not listen to Sophie, he does not express common interests, he is singularly focused on his work and his own life. So, right off the bat, the viewer sits and wonders, "Why is Sophie marrying this guy?" It's not even a casual question, it is a pain-in-the-gut, this-confounds-me-beyond-suspension-of-disbelief ache that comes with watching the movie. This isn't the 1700s, no one is forcing Sophie to marry a jerk and, frankly, with Sophie looking like the current societal ideal, her options are pretty much unlimited. So the attraction to Victor is lost on the viewer.

So, when Charlie enters the film and is pretty much the anti-Victor, the movie takes a turn into Obviousville that ought to cost Jose Rivera and Tim Sullivan their WGA memberships for writing this piece. The writing is so formulaic that the only audience this PG script is likely to amuse are those not old enough to get into films with a harder rating. Charlie is predictably likable in all the ways one might expect following Victor's stiffness and unlikability. Similarly, Claire becomes an archetype which one might have hoped would have been Vanessa Redgrave's swan song. Instead, Redgrave (who is not the recently deceased Redgrave, that was Lynn) is essentially replaying her role from Cradle Will Rock. This is not a leap for Redgrave and the performance seems like she is doing her best with a character type that has become increasingly common in recent years: the revitalized elder.

In fact, much of the acting "reads" as performers trying their best to work with a script that is in all ways unimpressive. Sophie is not a likable protagonist because the viewer spends far too much time wondering why she doesn't open her mouth and stand up for herself, first with her boss then with Victor. Amanda Seyfried plays the part like she's unsure how to not be a strong woman and actually vocalize her discomfort. Her jaw muscles clench and the viewer is forced to accept that this is Seyfried biting her tongue as opposed to Sophie. After all, if Sophie had spent her life clenching thus, her jaw muscles would be far more defined.

Christopher Egan, who plays Charlie is exactly the type of Hollywood good-looking guy that makes films like Letters To Juliet interminable to watch. This is the type of movie most people will watch and go "Wah wah! You're good looking, employed at an awesome job, what do you truly have to complain about?!" And seriously, the casting for this film was abysmal and targeted toward the skinny chick demographic. All of the women and girls shown visiting Juliet's balcony and writing letters to her are stick thin and Hollywood beautiful. This suggests one of three things: 1. The casting was utterly imaginative, 2. Fat chicks don't go crying to Juliet when their relationships have problems, or 3. Fat chicks need not apply. Gosh, I hope the message of the movie is #2 because otherwise this is yet another film in a long cinematic tradition of whiny stick thin girls who expect others to solve their problems while maintaining an almost unobtainable feminine ideal.

The only acting that stands out as notable or truly natural was that of Gael Garcia Bernal, who played Victor. Bernal seems like a workaholic who is pursuing his own agenda at the cost of all else. He is able to play a complete jerk and make it seem natural. His performance in Babel not inspiring me to recollect him, we assume this is the product of good acting.

Director Gary Winick made a good choice with the cinematographer for Letters To Juliet as the film looks good. The movie could be a travelogue for Italy, but truly there is nothing else. Letters To Juliet is not a smart chick flick; it embodies much of what is wrong with the genre and with stereotypes about women today.

And on a side note, those who are driven will find this to be a terrible movie to take a date to as the movie is utterly uncomfortable in its portrayal of workaholics. Contrary to what the film might suggest, workaholics are not all passionless people so focused on their own goals that they do not want love in their life. It's hard to suggest that, though, when watching Letters To Juliet, which might well ruin more relationships than it creates. Fortunately, my partner is smart enough to differentiate between Victor's insensitivity and my work focus: do you truly want to take the chance your partner might not be able to make the distinction?

For other romantic movies, please check out my reviews of:
Remember Me
Strawberry And Chocolate


For other movie reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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