LETTERS TO JULIET — ★★ — Amanda Seyfried, Christopher Egan, Vanessa Redgrave; rated PG (vulgarity, profanity, slurs, nude artwork); in general release
"Letters to Juliet" has nearly everything you could possibly want in a romantic comedy. In particular, the film has a beautiful, idyllic setting (most of it takes place in scenic Verona and other parts of Italy).
But where the movie fails completely is the most important, meat-and-potatoes parts. Namely, the main characters and a compelling, believable story line. These are both lacking.
In fact, every time the focus is on the leads, not on the more likable supporting characters, any interest we had in this cliche-ridden, predictable silliness wanes.
Consequently, it's another in a series of recent duds for "Mamma Mia" star Amanda Seyfried. Here, she plays Sophie, a fact-checker for a New York magazine.
Sophie has aspirations of being a full-time writer, but she hopes to get some much-needed time off with her fiancé, Victor (Gael Garcia Bernal), a chef who's about to open his own restaurant.
These two lovebirds go to Italy, but instead of spending time together, Victor uses the trip to gather recipes, wines and other food secrets.
Left to her own devices, Sophie joins a group of women known as the Secretaries of Juliet, who answer letters from the lovelorn. And Sophie has answered the pleas of Claire (Vanessa Redgrave), a British woman who hopes to reunite with an old flame, Lorenzo.
To her surprise, Claire shows up in Italy, so Sophie agrees to help her find Lorenzo — much to the chagrin of Claire's more practical grandson, Charlie (Christopher Egan), who believes it's a wild goose chase.
As messy as the film can be, the faults wouldn't be quite so noticeable if the film wouldn't compare itself to Shakespeare (that's the Juliet connection) and if the inevitable Sophie-Charlie romance wasn't so forced and painfully obvious.
Seyfried and Aussie actor Egan almost seem like they're going through the motions.
Considerably better are veteran performers Redgrave and Franco Nero, who are married in real life and who first appeared together in the 1967 film version of "Camelot." If only the whole film centered around them, it would be better off.
"Letters to Juliet" is rated PG and features some suggestive references and innuendo, scattered profanity (mostly of its fairly mild or religiously based), derogatory language and slurs (some of them sexist in nature), and glimpses of nude artwork (paintings and statues). Running time: 105 minutes.