DVD Release Date:  September 14, 2010
Theatrical Release Date:  May 14, 2010
Rating:  PG (for brief rude behavior, some language and incidental smoking)
Genre:  Romantic Comedy
Run Time:  101 min.
Director:  Gary Winick
Actors:  Amanda Seyfried, Gael Garcia Bernal, Christopher Egan, Vanessa Redgrave, Daniel Baldock

First, the good news: Unlike the last rom-com Gary Winick directed, the criminally annoying Bride Wars with Kate Hudson and Anne Hathaway, Letters to Juliet is infinitely more enjoyable.

However, the bad news is that even with a breathtaking Italian backdrop, a nod to literature's favorite star-crossed lovers (Romeo and Juliet) and not one, but two, potential happy-ever-afters packed into an hour and a half, Letters to Juliet is still only a notch above mediocre.

In terms of perfectly frothy, purely escapist entertainment, Letters to Juliet had possibility in spades. It's the faulty execution, not to mention the clichéd storytelling, that didn't work out so well. Let's just say it could've used a little more Shakespeare and a little less cheese.

Before heading to Italy, we learn that Sophie (Dear John's Amanda Seyfried) is a wannabe writer who's stuck fact-checking at The New Yorker instead because her editors say she's so good at it. Engaged to Victor (a hilariously self-absorbed Gael Garcia Bernal), she and her amour have been so busy (she's working late, he's in the midst of opening his first NYC Italian eatery) that they decide to head to Verona for a romantic, pre-wedding honeymoon.

Naturally, Sophie has a million romantic plans for their time together in Verona, the City of Love. But once they arrive, Victor immediately snaps into "work" mode and is obsessed with tracking down the best wine and exotic mushrooms for his new restaurant rather than properly lovin' on his girl.

Despite her obvious disappointment, Sophie is still the perfectly doting fiancée and lets Victor do his thing. That detail aside, it doesn't exactly take a rocket scientist to figure out this isn't quite what Sophie envisioned for her romantic getaway—or her love life.

And for whatever reason, the screenwriters actually forgot to provide even one compelling reason to root for this couple's future marital bliss anyway, a way-too-convenient plot device for what happens later on (not that you couldn't probably guess from the film's overly revealing trailer anyway).

Aside from the fact that these genetically superior individuals would probably have cute kids together (and trust me, the camera absolutely loves both of them), Sophie and Victor have absolutely nothing in common, a flaw that doesn't exactly help the story's cause. In fact, you hope she finds someone—anyone—but Victor because every girl should be loved more than a perfect plate of fettuccine.

While her fiancé's behavior is definitely lame, Sophie doesn't sit in her hotel room and sulk. Resolved to enjoy the glorious sites of Verona on her own, she eventually visits the home of the fabled Juliet and discovers something rather unusual in the process. Turns out, lovelorn women of all ages have written letters to Juliet about their ill-fated romances and have left them near the wall of the courtyard.

But rather than letting these confessions simply gather dust, a group of pro bono "Juliets" answer each and every grief-infused letter. And now that Sophie's curiosity instinct has officially kicked into overdrive (the mark of a good writer, no?), she follows one of Juliet's secretaries and watches them in action.

Then in a moment of true rom-com serendipity, Sophie discovers another letter of longing trapped behind the brick. Dating all the way back from 1957, Sophie is particularly inspired to play Juliet and answer this woman's plea for another chance with Lorenzo, the true love she left behind in Italy more than 50 years ago now.

While we don't have the privilege of hearing what Sophie said until later, her words were apparently inspiring enough to encourage a hopeful Claire (a radiant Vanessa Redgrave) and her easily annoyed grandson Charlie (Christopher Egan) to travel all the way to Verona from England to locate the "Juliet" who wrote her.

Armed with the youthful optimism that "Claire's Lorenzo" still might be out there, Sophie eventually asks to join Claire and Charlie on the quest to find him. Of course, Claire agrees without blinking an eye much to her grandson's chagrin, and the three embark on a Tuscan road-trip that's rather easy on the eyes.

Now as utterly romantic as this all sounds, the premise would've been far easier to buy into if there weren't a surplus of sappy dialogue along the way. Rather than actually having real conversations, these characters speak in cheesy platitudes like "I didn't know that true love had an expiration date" and "Do you believe in destiny?"

And that disconnect with any sort of reality is what inevitably compromises the whole experience. Sure, there's nothing wrong with fantastical, wish-fulfillment entertainment; after all, that's why many of us love the movies so much. But when it's this contrived and predictable, well, not even two sets of Romeos and Juliets can fix it.

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Wine is a big part of Italian culture, so it's regularly consumed with meals.

  • Language/Profanity:  A few exclamations of God's name, plus a couple of mild profanities.

  • Sex/Nudity:  The only nudity is of an artistic variety (bare breasts shown on historic statues, etc.). There are also a couple of double entendres in the humor department.

  • Violence:  Only of the comedic, slapstick variety.

Christa Banister is a full-time freelancer writer, specializing in music, movies and books-related reviews and interviews and is the author of two novels, Around the World in 80 Dates and Blessed Are the Meddlers. Based in St. Paul, Minn., she also weighs in on various aspects of pop culture on her personal blog

For more information, including her upcoming book signings and sample chapters of her novels, check out her Website.