Review: 'Letters to Juliet'

(Two stars)

Care for some wine with your cheese? Both are on the menu in this road-tripping romance that features a talented cast and gorgeous locales but an overly sappy plot and nap-inducing pace. Imagine eating a pile of pancakes smothered with maple syrup and then needing an afternoon snooze.

A charismatic cast helps alleviate the Velveeta overload. Aspiring writer Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) jaunts off to Verona, Italy, with her apathetic fiance Victor (Gael Garcia Bernal) for a "pre-honeymoon." Victor's busy schedule researching wine vendors for his fledgling New York restaurant offers Sophie plenty of solitary sight-seeing time. One such excursion leads her to Casa di Giulietta -- House of Juliet -- where love letters addressed to William Shakespeare's tragic character litter the wall.

Sophie's literary curiosity leads her to the "secretaries of Juliet" -- three women who respond to the barrage of emotional notes. The gals readily bring Sophie into their fold and she soon discovers a decades-old letter from a woman named Claire. Sophie's heartfelt response coaxes Claire (Vanessa Redgrave) to Verona with her handsome (but brusque) grandson in tow (Christopher Egan as Charlie), and the three embark on a cross-country search for Claire's long-lost love, Lorenzo.

There is a poetic spirit at the heart of the film and the casting is quite good. Redgrave's elegant presence is a boon and she brings an undeniable thespian prowess to the picture. Seyfried typifies the ingenue role and Egan flashes a hint of leading-man potential. But Bernal is wasted in a thankless part that offers the Mexican actor little opportunity to demonstrate the skills that earned him accolades in "Amores Perros" (2000) and "Y Tu Mama Tambien" (2001).

The lush Verona countryside is in full display and the scenery is gorgeous, but long expanses of searching for Lorenzo are drawn out and grow tiresome (though there are humorous interludes). It is a bit reminiscent of being stuck in the back of the family station wagon as an adolescent, restlessly repeating: "Are we there yet?" "Letters" is also often predictable and cliched, and the romantic subplots scream "Hollywood schmaltz."

Seyfried is establishing herself as a very charming leading lady, and it doesn't hurt to have this kind of co-star support. But "Letters" may be better suited in a Netflix envelope.

Rated PG for brief rude behavior, some language and incidental smoking. 1 hour, 44 minutes.

— Tyler Hanley

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