Letters to Juliet

So, yes, obviously, as a man, I can sit here and warn you that “Letters to Juliet” is an estrogen crucifixion of the bloodiest magnitude.

But that would be ignoring the most interesting (and appalling) thing about it – what in the world is Gael Garcia Bernal doing in this?

Four or five years ago, he was the hottest thing in international cinema, the biggest star of the Mexican New Wave, a borderless phenomenon appearing in films all across the world. How does he end up playing the stereotypical insensitive boyfriend in a banal girl-fest? And how does he end up losing the girl to some stiff English dork?

This is like watching Jean Seberg dump Jean-Paul Belmondo for Ricky Nelson.

Of course, Amanda Seyfried has a way to go to be Jean Seberg. Whatever her shortcomings as an actress, Seberg had that ueber-cool presence, an ingénue with an edge. Seyfried (who admittedly showed guts in Chloe) is a super-cutie pie who seems to be having her star turn this year. That sound you hear is the many Carey Mulligan worshippers in the criti-rati throwing themselves under buses in frustration.

Seyfried’s Sophie is a fact-checker with the New Yorker who wants to be a writer. While on holiday in Italy with her self-absorbed chef fiancé, she stumbles upon a strange ritual where heartbroken women attach letters to a stone wall, asking for romantic advice. A small committee of Italian women mail comforting letters in reply.

When Sophie finds and answers a fifty year-old letter from an Englishwoman, the now sixtysomething woman shows up to find her lost love. So does her testy grandson. Sophie tags along for the romantic adventure. He’s a jerk. She’s a sweetie. They clash. Sparks fly. At least for them.

“Letters to Juliet” is a film where the acting doesn’t do a good job of playing out the emotions found in the script. Part of that is the casting, which runs into a traditional problem. The male lead, in this case Australian actor Christopher Egan, must be strong enough to win the woman in a short period of time, but not strong enough to overshadow the female lead. It’s a contradictory task and it shows. Egan is far too anonymous, Seyfried lacks immediate warmth, the chemistry never materializes, and even struggling through the script’s obligatory asshole, Garcia Bernal still seems the exciting choice. Maybe he’s just having a bad weekend.

There’s nothing truly offensive about the film, it’s always nice to see Vanessa Redgrave get out of the house, and I suppose it will let less-demanding women open the purse for the hanky. However even as romantic afternoon time-wasters go, “Letters to Juliet” is up a balcony without a suitor.

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