Letters to Juliet is half a lovely, bittersweet movie about longing and romance and making mistakes and living with regret. Englishwoman Claire (Vanessa Redgrave) arrives in Verona, Italy, in search of the man she was in love with but ran away from half a century earlier. Meanwhile, Sophie (Amanda Seyfried), an American on vacation, has taken up with the women who, as employees of the city, reply to all the lovelorn missives that heartbroken women leave for the fictional Juliet Capulet (of Romeo and Juliet fame) at Juliet’s House.
Sophie discovers Claire’s letter, lamenting her abandonment of poor, handsome Lorenzo, which had been stuffed in a crevice and overlooked for 50 years. Then she responds, telling Claire that it’s never too late to chase after happiness.
Sophie is bored, you see, because her fiancé, Victor (Gael Garcia Bernal), is busy meeting suppliers for the Tuscan restaurant he’s about to open in New York, and she tags along on Claire’s road trip of the surrounding countryside to find her Lorenzo. Accompanying Claire is her grandson, Charlie (Christopher Egan), a truly unlikeable young man, and yet if you’re of the suspicion that Sophie will eventually fall for Charlie, even though he’s an odious, arrogant stick–in–the–mud, you are not wrong.
And that’s where Letters to Juliet fails. Claire’s story is deeply touching and beautifully performed by Redgrave and Seyfried. It’s all gorgeously shot in the actual locations and will make you want to jump on a plane and stroll around Italy eating amazing food and drinking amazing wine and hopefully falling in love yourself (which you will embrace heartily and not run away from, now that you’ve seen how Claire regrets that she did). And in the smart, not-obvious version of Letters to Juliet, Sophie would not run away from Victor but would take a fresh look at why she fell in love with him in the first place. There must have been a reason, mustn’t there, that she agreed to marry him? Or did she fall as quickly and inadvisably for Victor as she does for Charlie?
I wish the screenwriters or director Gary Winick were able to convey a sense of Sophie making a bad decision, and that 50 years later, she’d be on her own search for Victor, to apologize for abandoning him with seemingly little reason. But there’s no sense of that at all.