<i>Letters to Juliet</i>: Romeo, Romeo, Why Art Thou Such a Tool?

As the lights went down in the theater, I thought I knew what to expect from this formulaic-looking movie: A woman who's engaged gets swept up in a romantic adventure, finds love in the last place she expects and realizes that the man she's engaged to isn't right for her after all. It's a tale as old as the movies, although not quite as old as the story of Romeo and Juliet, which actually plays a much lesser role in the film. But the movie surprised me... It surprised me by telling this simple, classic tale in the most clumsy and ham-fisted way possible.

When we meet the main character, Sophie (Amanda Seyfried), we find out she's a fact-checker for The New Yorker, one who is so attentive to detail she feels the need to actually be in Times Square when she calls up a dozen elderly sailors to find the one who witnessed the famous V-J Day kiss. Despite her dogged determination, she's still too shy to ask her boss if she can write an actual article herself, and apparently too shy to ask her fiancé Victor (the utterly wasted Gael Garcia Bernal) why they have time to take a honeymoon before his big Italian restaurant opening, but not afterwards, when I imagine things will be slightly less hectic. (Restaurateurs, please confirm or deny.) Sadly, it's pretty obvious from the beginning that Victor habitually ignores her, and you later find out he never gave her an engagement ring, so, ugh. So off they go to Verona, and he immediately starts taking her to visit his food and wine suppliers, and while food tastings and vineyards are all well and good, she really doesn't want to drive a hundred miles to eat a truffle, so she lets him go while she explores the town. And then she discovers... gasp! A tourist trap! Seriously, she is in awe over Juliet's fake balcony, built onto her supposed family's house in 1936. Presumably, the professional fact-checker is aware of this, but it's not clear whether she was even looking for it, or if she stumbled upon it after a day of stalking around Verona looking dour. (It may have been the sun in her eyes; apparently, she owns no sunglasses.)

After spending all day watching tourists write letters to Juliet while sobbing hysterically, Sophie sees a woman collect all of the letters stuck to the wall and bring them back to four other women, who tell her that they answer each and every letter as Juliet. When Sophie finds a 50-year-old letter behind a very loose rock while helping them, she responds herself, and only a few days later the author, Claire (Vanessa Redgrave), arrives to seek out the Romeo she left behind, accompanied by her snotty British grandson Charlie (Chris Egan). He acts like an ass almost from the beginning, and Sophie, to her credit, is an ass right back to him, even when she latches onto their road trip to find the guy. When their lead turns out to be false, they decide to visit every Lorenzo Bartolini in the area, thereby giving Sophie the time to find out that Charlie is A. a pro bono lawyer. B. an orphan. And C. very protective of his grandmother. This is apparently enough to make Sophie overlook A. his rudeness. B. his constant criticism of her vocabulary. And C. the stick in his ass. (I suppose the British accent does wonders, especially compared to Bernal's Spanish/Italian patois; at one point, Sophie mentions that Victor is not Italian. This is never addressed.)

Even though the ending is instantly predictable by anyone who's seen a movie (or at least one of the trailers) I won't spoil it -- that's already been done by a cheap fake-out and a clichéd final scene. Amanda Seyfried is beautiful, and when she's rude to Chris she shows life, but otherwise is just along for the ride, both literally adn figuratively. Gael Garcia Bernal is occasionally brilliant when he acts like he's torn about what to do but really just wants to ditch his fiancée and check out a truffle, but mostly he's just a guy we know we aren't supposed to like. Chris Egan is... I don't know what to say about this guy, except that he reminds me of Spencer Pratt from The Hills, but with an accent gleaned from particularly stuffy episodes of Masterpiece Theatre. And Vanessa Redgrave seems amused by the whole affair, responding to the apparently nonprofessional Italian actors with smiles and raised eyebrows, and commenting on the dialogue of others as it's delivered with "ohs" and "ums." Casting her real-life Italian husband Franco Nero -- the Lancelot to her Guinevere in Camelot -- as the object of her search is a particularly nice touch, even though he looks 20 years too young for her.

My biggest complaint about the film is the unexplained details, the ones that make no sense and should have been caught in the script stage, or at least fixed in the editing. For instance, I love that the Fake Juliets sort the letters according to each woman's romantic specialty (marriage, breakups, affairs), but not by whether or not they can read any of the dozens of languages the letters are undoubtedly left in. (Apparently, they're all polyglots.) Then, Sophie signs her letter to Claire "Juliet" two sentences after saying in the letter that she doesn't know what it's like to feel a love as passionate as Juliet's. And while Claire is sure enough about Lorenzo Bartolini's location to fly to Italy, a search later reveals there are over 70 men by that name in the area, so why she chose that one is a mystery. As a bonus, Sophie seems to make no attempt to screen any of them in advance, thereby forcing Claire to have even more awkward meetings with lecherous old Italians, and in the end, there's an entire cluster of people named Lorenzo Bartolini that they find by accident who aren't even on the list.

Apparently, logic has no place in affairs of the heart, or the movies about them, which is a shame -- if they were more logical, maybe more guys (and girls) would go to see them. But even compared to other sappy romances, this film is an insult to the classic cinematic tale of the unhappy fiancée. It may not be Shakespeare, but it still deserves our respect.

Let us know what you thought of the film below, then read our letters to Amanda Seyfried!

Watch a video interview with Amanda Seyfried and find out about the real Juliet Wall.

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