Who's In It: Amanda Seyfried, Christopher Egan, Vanessa Redgrave, Franco Nero, Gael Garcia Bernal
The Basics: Bubbly blonde Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) is an American on holiday in Italy, where she falls in with a group of Italian women who give romantic advice on behalf of the fictional Juliet Capulet. One carefully written letter of advice later, Sophie's on a cross-country road trip with an septuagenarian named Claire (Vanessa Redgrave) to find Claire's long-lost Italian soul mate (Franco Nero). Also along for the ride is Claire's skeptical British grandson Charlie (Christopher Egan), who clashes with Sophie -- then totally vibes on her -- even though she's got a restaurateur fiancé (Gael Garcia Bernal) tasting olive oils on the other side of the country. What's a girl to do when she's taking advice from a fictional heroine who killed herself for love?
What's The Deal: Romantic comedies with flimsy plots and forced chemistry between their leads are a dime a dozen, and Letters to Juliet is no exception. Aside from Amanda Seyfried's perpetually winning smile and the master class in acting that Vanessa Redgrave puts on for her earnest young co-stars, there's little to applaud in this lifeless excuse for a romantic fantasy. Granted, there's not a single malicious or misogynist note to be found, which certainly sets it apart from too many loathable romantic comedies these days, but the film's relentless blandness is almost offensive in itself. Why does Sophie suddenly go for the douchey Charlie and his mop of golden curls? (Never trust a man with curly blond hair, I say.) Why should I expend the energy to care? And who is Christopher Egan trying to fool with that weirdo British accent? Letters to Juliet manages to suck all the fun out of romance, which is a real crime of the heart.
Worst Offense: Director Gary Winick, who managed to make one of the more repulsive "women's films" of 2009 (Bride Wars), here reduces the luminous Amanda Seyfried, so adorable in Mamma Mia! and so very seductive in Chloe, to a boring McTourist in horrid humdrum clothes. She still looks beautiful and has covet-worthy hair, but poor Seyfried is forced to walk up and down Italy in the most awful sensible outfits any lead actress has ever had to wear. Could this movie get any tamer? Get Seyfried out of those T-shirts and travel shorts, for goodness sake!
Second-To-Worst Offense: The interior car scenes that look like they were filmed in one of those fake movie cars on a sound stage in Los Angeles. Between those shots and the actual on location sets in the Italian countryside, Letters to Juliet has some of the most inconsistent production values we've seen since When in Rome (with half of its zany energy and none of its sex appeal).
Where The Real Sparks Are: Between 73-year-old Vanessa Redgrave and her real-life husband, the 68-year-old spaghetti Western icon Franco Nero. When Nero rides up on a horse as Lorenzo, Redgrave's long-lost love, the film gets its first and only surge of hormonal lust and longing.