For four Euros, visitors to fair Verona—where Letters To Juliet lays its scene—can visit a house called La Casa Di Giulietta, said to have inspired Shakespeare’s Romeo And Juliet. True, said inspiration exists entirely in the mind of whoever first thought to add a balcony to a medieval inn in 1936 and start charging admission, but that doesn’t stop tourists from showing up and indulging the manufactured tradition of rubbing the breast of a Juliet statue for luck and leaving love letters hanging from a wall. What becomes of said letters? As yet, nothing good. They inspired a ponderous 1993 Elvis Costello album, and now there’s Letters To Juliet, in which a vacationing Amanda Seyfried falls in with the Secretaries Of Juliet, a group of women who set about answering the eponymous letters with homespun advice.
A New Yorker fact-checker with writing ambitions, Seyfried winds up with plenty of time on her hands while vacationing in Italy with fiancée Gael Garcia Bernal, a chef who responds to food with the comical enthusiasm of a Tex Avery character, and appears bored by just about everything else. While he traipses off to check out a wine auction, Seyfried starts responding to Juliet’s correspondents. She’s particularly drawn to a long-lost letter from the 1950s, written by an Englishwoman who chose to abandon the teenage love of her life. Seyfried is surprised to find the letter, then even more surprised when the woman shows up (played by Vanessa Redgrave) accompanied by her priggish, handsome grandson (Christopher Egan), with whom Seyfried develops an instantly antagonistic relationship. Together, they hit the road looking for Redgrave’s long-lost love.
Those already connecting the dots as to who ends up with whom get no extra points. Not that that should matter. If well done, a film like Letters To Juliet should need no surprises. But it does need more than the postcard-ready vistas against which director Gary Winick (13 Going On 30) frames much of the action. That’s a smart choice, as is giving Redgrave a generous amount of screen time, but no amount of pretty scenery and grand-dame gravity can make up for the complete absence of chemistry between Seyfried and Egan. Her dewy romanticism and his Oxbridge stuffiness pair as well as pasta primavera and Faygo, and both seem at a loss as to how to improve a clunker-laden script or push a film that’s content to move at a parcel-post pace.