Two bad signs. One is when you spend the entire movie thinking that a couple of Google searches would have made it possible for everyone in the story to save a week’s effort and everyone in the audience about an hour of viewing time. Another is when the B couple is twice as interesting as the A couple and sets off ten times the romantic electricity.
But the Italian scenery is very pretty.
Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) is a fact-checker for the New Yorker who dreams of being a writer but is too insecure to insist on a chance. She and her restaurateur fiance Victor (Gael GarcÃa Bernal) go to Italy on a pre-wedding vacation, but he gets caught up in work and leaves her on her own to explore.
In Verona, best known as the setting for “Romeo and Juliet” and the real-life story that inspired it, Sophie finds that a small group of women gather up the letters left in Juliet’s wall by lovers looking for help. And then they write answers providing sympathy and guidance. She finds a letter that had been inside the wall for 50 years, from an English girl who lost her nerve and went home instead of meeting the boy she loved to run away with him. And she decides to answer it.
The letter-writer turns out to be Claire (Vanessa Redgrave), who arrives in Verona with her grandson, inspired by Sophie’s letter to try to find the man she left behind half a century before.
Can Sophie come along? Can this be the story that will move her from fact-checker to writer? Is Claire’s grandson, who initially appeared to be so arrogant and unlikeable, in fact a hottie and a sweetie? Will someone end up on a balcony? Naturalmente, senza dubbio!
Redgrave is radiant as the woman who is hoping for a romantic miracle. Claire never stopped loving the boy she met in Italy but she did not let her regret interfere with a life of purpose and loving relationships. Still, the encouragement from Sophie’s letter has her hoping for a miracle — that she can find her lost love and that he still cares for her. Redgrave shows us Claire’s resolve and her vulnerability, her practicality and her optimism. She is pure magic and she makes us want to see Claire find some magic, too.
But she is so good that she casts a spotlight on the weaknesses of the rest of the movie. Her grandson Charlie (a bland Christopher Egan) is rude and dull. Of course the first thing he will do on accompanying his grandmother to Verona is take time out to track down Sophie so he can yell at her. Yes, we like to see lovers begin with antagonism so we can enjoy the delicious moment when they make a deep connection and have to admit to themselves that they like each other. But the antagonism is so arbitrary it makes Charlie unlikeable. And that moment? They smash ice cream cones into each other’s faces. That doesn’t exactly get us rooting for them to get together. Too much in the movie makes too little sense. Why do they have to drive around to ask dozens of men with the same name whether they are the one? Why is Bernal playing such a stock character (and yet still showing more chemistry with Seyfried than Egan)? Why, why, does there have to be a last-minute fake-out to drag things out further?
Juliet, if you’re out there, I’d welcome a letter in reply.