Like Taylor Swift’s pop hit “Love Story,” Garry Winick’s Letters to Juliet references Shakespeare to prop up its cornball fairy-tale romanticism. In this dime store novel-quality story, New Yorker fact-checker and aspiring writer Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) travels to Italy with self-interested restaurateur fiancé Victor (Gael García Bernal), whose limbs-flailing hyperactivity suggests that he wants to ditch Sophie not so he can conduct business (his stated reason), but, rather, so he can indulge what appears to be a massive coke habit. While manic Victor meets with “suppliers,” Sophie visits the home of Juliet Capulet, where heartbroken women leave notes of grief to which a small cabal of sensitive women respond. Finding a 50-year-old letter in which a British woman named Claire expresses misery over having abandoned her true Italian love, Sophie writes back, and in a Hollywood minute finds herself on the road with both aged Claire (Vanessa Redgrave) and her snooty grandson Charlie (Christopher Egan) in search of the hunk that got away.
Dousing his material in warm sunshiny hues, Winick lazily repeats shots, specifically the sight of Sophie walking toward, and then past, the camera, the better to ogle both her low-cut tops and blond locks flowing down her back. After a few standard musical montages, Sophie and Charlie begin warming to each other thanks to their shared histories of parental tragedy and the stunning revelation that Charlie isn’t a cold-fish jerk but, instead, a compassionate and funny dreamboat who also works as a humanitarian lawyer. Stranded in too many awkward reaction shots, Seyfried struggles to make Sophie more than a prototypically bland rom-com heroine, and the less said about Egan’s laughably phony Charlie, the better. Still, one would think the presence of the regal Redgrave might at least moderately enhance Letters to Juliet’s wine-country schmaltz. Alas, aside from a few stolen moments (Including a brief, tender scene in which she brushes a forlorn Sophie’s hair), the legendary actress winds up as adrift as everyone else, gamely and lamely riding the formulaic film’s rails all the way up to and past her fated reunion with a long-lost love (played by Redgrave’s real-life husband Franco Nero) who’s the spitting image of Dos Equis’s Most Interesting Man in the World.