Letters to Juliet should be returned to sender
The rom-com scrapes by as ninety minutes of scenery porn
GENRE: Insomnia cure disguised as romantic comedy
THE PITCH: Magazine fact-checker Sophie (Amanda Seyfried), while vacationing in Verona with her distracted fiancé Victor (Gael García Bernal), writes a response to a lovelorn English girl's 50-year-old letter to Juliet. Sophie ends up joining now elderly Claire (Vanessa Redgrave) and her handsome, priggish grandson Charlie (Christopher Egan) on a search for Claire's long-lost Lorenzo. But who is Claire's real Romeo?
MONEY SHOTS: The plot provides the barest excuse for 90 minutes of sun-drenched scenery porn; you can practically hear the tourists: "Verona has such lovely bridges! ... Look at that quaint old church! ... Oh, I love bread slices with olive oil. ... Tuscany is even prettier, with all those farms and vineyards. ... Hey, they're doing a balcony in that historic villa!" etc.
BEST LINE: "Doubt thou the stars are fire, doubt thou the sun doth move /Doubt truth to be a liar, but never doubt I love," Charlie and Claire recite Shakespeare's classic couplet. Never mind that it's from Hamlet, not Romeo and Juliet.
WORST LINES: "How many Sophies do you think there are on this planet?" Claire asks Charlie. But is this a trick question? Out of a global population of billions, I guess up to 100,000.
THE ETERNAL DILEMMA: Like most rom-com heroines, Sophie must chose between two men, but in this case, passionate but inattentive chef Victor proves more appealing than well-intentioned but reflexively bitter lawyer Charlie. Why is "None of the above" ever an option?
SOUNDTRACK HIGHLIGHTS: Caterina Caselli's Italian rendition of "I'm a Believer" and Lisa Jane and Chris Mann's cover of "Quando, Quando, Quando" suit the story and make for reasonably easy listening. Otherwise, the carmelized soundtrack makes you want to pour Quikrete in your ears.
HEY, WAIT A MINUTE: Verona's Juliet Club is a real thing, described in the nonfiction book Letters to Juliet: Celebrating Shakespeare's Greatest Heroine, the Magical City of Verona and the Enduring Power of Love by Lise and Cecil Friedman. But why are women so interested in seeking advice from a fictional teenage girl who committed suicide 500 years ago? Also, is "love conquers all" really the message of the original Romeo and Juliet? Spoiler alert: In the play, they die at the end.
THE BOTTOM LINE: As a sleep aid, Letters to Juliet could drive Ambien out of business. The film works the charms of Redgrave's sunny (but one-note) performance and the comedy of Claire encountering elderly Casanovas who all share Lorenzo's name. However, the initial insults turned romantic banter between Claire and Charlie couldn't be more rote, and the film seems actively terrified of surprising its audience. If it's a hit, though, perhaps they'll make a version for men: Letters to Frank T.J. Mackey: Celebrating the Enduring Potency of Tom Cruise's Character from Magnolia.