'Letters To Juliet': Girl Talk, By Kurt Loder

Amanda Seyfried and Vanessa Redgrave make the most of a sunny romantic comedy.

[movie id="430304"]"Letters to Juliet"[/movie] is a pure chick flick. The characters with which it is centrally concerned are women of various ages, and the men who wander through are the subjects of their amused contemplation. Who are these rough creatures? Why are they so awkward about emotions, so uneasy with talk of love? What is it they want? Do they even know?

Fortunately for men who get dragged along to this film, Amanda Seyfried, with her saucery eyes, is among the many ladies, as is Vanessa Redgrave, with her imposing dowager poise. Gael García Bernal also enlivens the proceedings with his trademark contagious exuberance. And fortunately for everyone, the picture has Italy, that idealized movie land of serene vineyards stretching out over sun-soaked hills and hearty communal feasts under leafy garden boughs. Who can resist such ravishing travel porn?

Seyfried plays Sophie, a fact-checker at The New Yorker who longs to be a writer. García Bernal is Victor, her fiancé, an excitable chef who's preoccupied with building his own restaurant. Sophie and Victor have decided to have a "pre-honeymoon" in Verona, the city of Romeo and Juliet. As soon as they arrive, though, Victor gets caught up in cultivating suppliers of local wines, cheeses and truffles for his Manhattan eatery. This leaves the disappointed Sophie to make her way around Verona on her own. The city is clogged with tourists, many of them women streaming toward the Casa di Giulietta, fictitious home of the entirely fictional Capulet family, complete with Juliet's famous balcony looking out over a leafy courtyard. The outer wall of this picturesque house is covered with letters to Juliet from wildly romantic visitors seeking advice on matters of the heart. Inside is a team of "secretaries" who harvest these letters each day and then actually answer them. This is the sort of plot element guaranteed to make men restless, but having already been dragged along to the movie, it's too late for them to protest.

Sophie happens upon this house and in the courtyard finds a letter, tucked behind a loose brick, that was written 50 years ago by a lovelorn Englishwoman named Claire (Redgrave), who was distraught about having to part with the Italian lover she'd met, a man named Lorenzo. Sensing a story waiting to be written, Sophie answers that vintage missive, prompting Claire to fly back to Verona and try to relocate Lorenzo. Soon the older woman turns up, along with her sniffy grandson, Charlie (Christopher Egan), who strongly disapproves of this harebrained project. Nevertheless, they all hop in a car and take off for Tuscany, Lorenzo's ancestral home.

We now get to meet many Lorenzos, all of them the wrong ones. We also get to watch Sophie and Charlie engaging in cute mini-spats while at the same time, under the spell of pink moons and fine wine, being slowly but surely drawn together. Right around here, women viewers may notice the guy sitting beside them beginning to fidget violently. They will ignore him.

Does Claire find her Lorenzo? Do Sophie and Charlie make a love match? What will she do about Victor? In the immutable universe of romantic comedy, the answers to these questions are foreordained. The movie holds no real surprises, but it's sleekly constructed and beautifully filmed, and the actors — especially Redgrave — are affectionately committed to the material. It's too bad we see a little less of García Bernal than we might like, and a little too much of Egan, a bit of a stiff whose bland blond looks suggest an unfinished Heath Ledger who's been taken off the replicating lathe too soon. The picture has a predictable symmetry, but it has real charm, too. And every gratified woman can make it up to her flabbergasted man by accompanying him to "MacGruber" or something next week.

Don't miss Kurt Loder's review of "Robin Hood," also new in theaters this week.

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