The good news is that Letters to Juliet is only the third-worst romantic comedy set in Europe released this year. The bad news is that it’s trailing Leap Year and When in Rome, two of the worst movies of 2010, so besting them is not much of an achievement. Like those movies, Letters presents Europe as a life-size picture postcard, a fairy-tale world where every local is colorful and friendly, and romance is always right around the corner.
Here that romance is in store for American journalist-wannabe Sophie (Seyfried), who comes to the Italian city of Verona and happens upon a charming tradition in which lovesick women write letters to Shakespeare’s doomed heroine, and a group of Italian volunteers composes responses. An enamored Sophie discovers a hidden letter from 50 years ago and writes a belated reply; soon both letter-writer Claire (Redgrave) and her disapproving grandson Charlie (Egan) show up in Verona, sweeping Sophie up in a search to find Claire’s long-lost love.
The most frustrating thing about Letters is how it neglects to explore the fascinating possibilities of the real-life Juliet letters, or the complexities of finding new love in old age. Instead, the letters and Claire’s quest are mere plot devices to drive the love story between the bland 20-somethings. Seyfried is charming as usual, and Redgrave brings soul and depth to her underwritten role, but the movie remains a forgettable march through strained contrivances to arrive at the exact outcome you could predict from the poster in the lobby.