“Letters to Juliet” opens with shots of kisses taken from classical paintings and vintage photos, a montage proudly proclaiming its chick-flick romantic-comedy bona fides. It also serves notice not to expect much in the way of sophistication, invention or emotional depth.
That’s not necessarily a criticism. Romcoms aren’t exactly renowned for edginess, and “Letters to Juliet” certainly doesn’t harbor a mean-spirited or objectionable thought in its neatly coiffed head.
But it doesn’t appear to have any other kind of thought, either.
Amanda Seyfried (“Dear John“) is Sophie, a magazine fact-checker who goes on a romantic getaway to Verona, Italy, with her fiancé, aspiring chef Victor (Gael García Bernal, “Blindness“). Once in the land of Romeo and Juliet, however, preening Victor spends all his time at vineyards and wine auctions, leaving Sophie to sightsee on her own.
At the supposed home of Juliet Capulet, Sophie discovers that its stone edifice is a wailing wall for the lovelorn, a place where women leave letters seeking help from that celebrated lovesick teenager. Considering Juliet’s fate, seeking her counsel on matters of the heart seems odd (do people visit Jim Morrison’s Paris grave to pose questions of pharmacology?), but so be it. Sophie meets a group of volunteers, dubbed “Juliet’s Secretaries,” who answer every letter left at the site, and they invite her to become an ad hoc member.
Almost immediately, Sophie finds a 50-year-old letter languishing behind a brick. Its author, a British teen named Claire, reveals that she regrets having skipped out on Lorenzo, a strapping Italian boy of her dreams.
Sophie writes Claire back, urging her to track down Lorenzo. Mail must be lightning-fast in Europe, as septuagenarian Claire (Vanessa Redgrave, “Atonement“) soon arrives in Verona.
Claire is accompanied by snooty, disapproving grandson Charlie (Christopher Egan, “Resident Evil: Extinction“), but Sophie is determined to help the old woman find Lorenzo.
“I didn’t know true love had an expiration date,” Sophie tells Charlie in one of the film’s many groan-inducing moments. The three then go on a true-love scavenger hunt in search of Lorenzo. But Claire’s journey takes a figurative backseat as Sophie and Charlie inevitably fall in love.
Director Gary Winick (“Bride Wars“) packs in plenty of golden-hued vistas, but there’s no covering up the cloying screenplay by Jose Rivera (“The Motorcycle Diaries“) and Tim Sullivan (“Flushed Away“). No line of dialogue is deemed too trite, no plot contrivance too predictable. “Life is the messy bits,” Claire advises her grandson, but “Letters to Juliet,” ironically, is nearly anal-retentive in its aversion to messiness.
The actors and scenery are pretty, if pretty vacant. Seyfried is beautiful and charmingly wide-eyed, but she can’t muster up much chemistry with Egan, who coasts by here on bland good looks. Bernal, a gifted actor, has the unenviable task of playing an over-the-top buffoon.
Redgrave supplies a modest portion of emotional heft, but you suspect that the production of “Letters to Juliet” was more about hanging out in Verona than it was about real romance. “Phil Bacharach