A Window into Life in the Suburbs

"Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these." Luke 12:27 (NIV)

Monday, June 7, 2010

Now Showing But Not for Long: Letters to Juliet

Letters to Juliet exemplifies more clearly than most the core problem underlying romantic comedies. Despite (or rather because of) the formulaic nature of the genre, it is the elephant in the room for every single film made for its market. Some films do a better of job of overcoming that difficulty through good casting or good storytelling but it is still the nagging issue. Audiences through silent assent negotiate with the implausible narrative and allow themselves to be manipulated and then be expected to forgive the unreality of the entire situation.
So what is the elephant in the room?
It is this: To spin a vaguely convincing yarn about two people coming together, falling in love and come to the conclusion that they have found their soulmate all in a matter of 90 minutes.

Romantic comedies are so loved because it is largely escapist fare. Audiences are not driven to romantic comedies for realism. Yet, as they embark on this journey, it is vital for them to receive the payoff, to see two people fall in love in a convincing manner no matter how absurd the setup might be.

Letters to Juliet begins with an endearing premise. A pretty, aspiring writer, Sophie, engaged to an Italian chef heads off to Verona, Italy on a pre-wedding honeymoon. While wandering the streets of Verona, she discovers a wall where women post Dear Abby letters to the mythical Juliet Capulet about their romantic woes. At the end of the day, a local, carrying a basket comes to collect them and takes them to a group of ladies known as the Secretaries of Juliet who respond to each letter personally. Sophie, bored with being relegated to the sidelines while her fiance, Victor, is enthusiastically conducting business for his New York restaurant, becomes taken up with the Secretaries of Juliet to while away her time. While working with the Secretaries, she stumbles upon a 50 year old letter from a lovelorn English school girl and feels drawn to respond. This becomes the catalyst for a train of events which leads to Sophie to find her own true love, although as one might expect with such things, it is not in the man she's engaged to.

Except that it's hard to be sure that Sophie is in love with anything but the idea of love itself. Her greatest passion is reserved for the story of the 50 year old letter and her part in reuniting old lovers. Clearly the actress is pretty... she smiles prettily on cue but one is never sure if the new love is an improvement over the old one. I like him (he's a likeable Aussie boy doing a credible turn as an educated British lawyer) and I'm sure he likes her but I continue to harbour doubts about where her affections truly lie even when she goes all weepy at the end. Romantic comedies to a large extent, rely a great deal on the ability and personality of the lead actress but I don't think Amanda Seyfried has enough spunk to take the role where it needed to go. Fortunately we have the great Vanessa Redgrave on hand to lend a bit of  weight to the enterprise.

Looking at the film as a whole, I scratch my head and wonder why it isn't better than it is. The story is good, the acting is mostly reliable, the Siena countryside is sumptous and there's nothing objectionably silly about the tone of the film. The conclusion I come to (after a third of my hair has fallen out) is the ordinariness of  the dialogue... Limp and cliched,  no real memorable lines... no sparkle or sizzle which is odd considering that two of the characters are supposed to be British. This leads me to my next problem -- The film presents a clumsily constructed caricaturized view of  British reserve with little of the biting humour for which they are famous.

It's likely that no one cares about dialogue except me. Nonetheless, for a film based around the mythology of a character created by the greatest writer in the English language, is it too much to expect quite a bit more in that department?


  1. Thanks for bringing my attention to this movie, it sounds interesting - I'll let you know once I've seen it, to see if I agree with your comments here!

  2. Absolutely, Janet. Love to hear what you think.

  3. dear lilian,
    when can i see you missing 1/3 of your hair? :P
    em. ^^


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