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Letters to Juliet: Love's labours lit by Tuscan sun

Vanessa Redgrave and Amanda Seyfried star in Letters to Juliet.

John P. Johnson/John P. Johnson

2 out of 4 stars


Letters to Juliet

  • Directed by Gary Winick
  • Written by Jose Rivera and Tim Sullivan
  • Starring Amanda Seyfried, Vanessa Redgrave, Christopher Egan and Gael Garcia Bernal and Franco Nero
  • Classification: PG

Here's what probably happened: Amanda Seyfried's mother saw way too much of her in Atom Egoyan's recent Chloe, where she played an always-on call girl. Instead of sentencing her to her room, Mom sent the young actress off to Tuscany with a gallon of Coppertone to make Letters to Juliet, the sunniest, G-est, most old-fashioned love story imaginable.

And just to make sure Amanda didn't get into any more trouble, Mom insisted that her daughter's escorts be neutered Ken dolls. Nervous juveniles who gulp before kissing. Then apologize.

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Seyfried's latest screen incarnation is Sophie, a New Yorker magazine fact checker who has never bothered to vet her fiancé, Victor (Gael Garcia Bernal), an excitable chef who wears red pants and rhapsodizes about limp, skinny noodles. Strikes one, two and three. In fact, she flies off with Victor to Italy, to Romeo and Juliet's Verona, where she presides over a miracle of love.

Every day in Verona, heartsick women gather before a crumbling wall, placing letters - prayers really - to Shakespeare's most famous heroine. Perhaps sensing a kinship with the lovelorn, Sophie approaches the wall and discovers, behind a loose brick, a faded 50-year-old note from a British schoolgirl.

Sophie answers the lost letter, advising her by now 65-year-old correspondent that love has no expiry date. Romeo may still be waiting for her in Italy, bleeding poetry.

Before long, her pen pal, the magnificent Vanessa Redgrave, materializes, swathed in flowing summer silks, her silver hair shining.

Sophie is thrilled, sensing in Redgrave's Claire the promise of life. Claire sees her younger self in Sophie. Remembers her dancing days.

And so, while dopey, skittish Victor roams Italy in search of bargain foodstuffs for his new restaurant, Sophie and Claire take off in search of love.

The best scene here, one so good it belongs in another movie, finds Claire and Sophie alone in Sophie's chamber. The older woman takes a brush to Sophie's wet, tangled locks, observing that few things in life feel as good as having another person comb out your hair. Sophie, who hopes to be a writer, understands a metaphor when she hears one.

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Unfortunately, Claire has a grandson tagging along, a heap of cold porridge named Charlie (Christopher Egan), who is forever correcting Sophie's grammar and pushing Claire into the shade. As you might guess, after a great deal of sniping Sophie and Charlie supposedly fall for each other. But the audience never buys it. Charlie, we're pretty sure, will never be able to comb out Sophie's hair properly.

Letters to Juliet is easy enough to watch. The Tuscan countryside is flooded with lemon sunshine. Seyfried and Redgrave appear radiant. If nothing else, the film is inspired travelogue with a welcome, oddball sense of humour. And we have our heroines driving up the steep, winding hills of Tuscany, aimed at the sun, searching for Romeo, listening on the radio to an Italian rendition of the old Monkees hit, I'm a Believer.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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