Joe and I go to the movies probably twice a month – sometimes, if there’s a child appropriate movie, maybe we squeeze in a third. So, movie nights are limited; choices must be made carefully. If you choose unwisely, your picking privileges may be revoked.
My picking days are over – for a while, at least.
I picked Letters to Juliet.
About 20 minutes into the movie, Joe declared, “this movie has no male value.” His legs began twitching, he threw his hands up in disgust several times, he uttered, “get out a here,” and “wtf” more than once, before eventually adding, “this movie is not fit for man.” By the end of the movie, I had to agree – the movie was not fit for mankind.
Letters to Juliet is about a bright eyed, almost dewey Brown graduate, who’s biding her time being a fact checker at the New Yorker, until she finally abandons her perfectionism (her excuse for not actually finishing anything) and actually completes one of the fantastically well written stories she started in her cutesy notebook, in her school girl handwriting. She and her fiancee go on a pre-Honeymoon to Verona, where said fiancee, a self-absorded jerk who is required to be so over the top in his self absorption that we think it’s ok that she ends up falling for her fated “right” guy at the end, abandons her for wine tastings at picturesque vineyards, cheese tastings in rustic cellars, and a wine auction in Livorna. Alas, this is not what Sophie wants to do on her vacation – because????? tasting fabulous wine, eating fabulous food, and attending lavish wine parties is soooooooo boring. Really?
So, Sophie is left to her own devices while fiancee has the most “boring” time of it – and wanders into Juliet’s, the Juliet of Romeo and Juliet, famed courtyard, and a watches as women scratch away at their notebooks, cry inconsolably, and tape Letters to Juliet under the balcony wall. She then observes a woman collect those letters, and a lightbulb goes off – you can actually see her blondy blond hair start to glow – a fanastic opportunity for a story. You see, all of these letters are actually answered, by a group of local Italian women who could star in the Italian version of How to Make an American Quilt, or perhaps Steel Magnolias. Indeed, while this movie’s only redeeming aspect is its lush and beautiful travelogue like footage of Verona and the surrounding countryside, this movie is as American as American can be – even the perky background music is not the music of Italy – its the Monkey’s in Italian.
Anyway, Juliet, er, I mean Sophie, ends up answering a letter written 50 years ago, to a woman living in England who, at 15, had wanted to know if she should run off with her true love, or return to school in England. 15???? Really – honey, you made the right choice returning to England. But whatever, drawn by this letter, and her desire to find to her one true love, Clare, the now 65 year old author of the letter, returns to Verona in a heartbeat (that European post is fabulous!!!!) with her handsome, obnoxious (but obnoxious for a reason, of course), grandson – and it doesn’t take much guesswork to figure out how the movie ends.
Letters to Juliet wants to settle the question, “What if . . .” but it’s a question that can’t be settled – and a movie like the Wrestler, that tries to go about it in a realistic, ambiguous way leads to a good movie, and a movie like Letters to Juliet that goes about in a total contrite, triffling, preposterous way makes a bad movie. There’s no question – this is a bad movie. And of course, to top it all off, that song I hate, that cloying Taylor Swift song, plays in our heroines head , spurs her to action, sending her back to Verona to seize the day, and her true love. Whatever – why does everyone want to rewrite Romeo and Juliet?
Yeah, there are a lot of what if’s in Romeo and Juliet – What if the Capulets and the Montagues had just sat down, cracked a case of mead, and settled there differences over a greasy bird and drink? What if the Friar had managed to get it all right? What if they hadn’t died?
Well, I’ll tell you what if – there would have been a happy ending, and you never would have read the play. It would have fallen into the bin with Much Ado About Nothing, Twelfth Night, and all Shakespeare’s other comedies that unless Kenneth Branagh made a movie of it, you didn’t have to read in high school. Romeo and Juliet is compelling because its tragic. Period.
Everyone – Taylor, listen up! – Shakespeare got it right. Leave it alone.
So, why am I ending with a poster from Room with a View – because if you want to be overwhelmed with Italian countryside, and pondering the meaning of true love, watch this movie, not Letters to Juliet. Its a much better investment.