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Review: The Last Letter from Your Lover’s Artistic Verve Elevates Its Shopworn Premise

Throughout, director Augustine Frizzell balances a dynamic aesthetic energy with a generosity of spirit.

2.5
The Last Letter from Your Lover
Photo: Netflix

Adapted from Jojo Moyes’s 2012 novel of the same name, director Augustine Frizzell’s The Last Letter from Your Lover traffics in tropes that are seemingly standard issue for mainstream romance stories. Those include a woman trapped in a stifling relationship, the resulting forbidden affair, and exotic locales and nostalgically rendered time periods, here the swanky French Riviera and London high society of the 1960s.

Early in The Last Letter from Your Lover, Jennifer Stirling (Shailene Woodley) begins having an affair with pragmatic journalist Anthony (Callum Turner) after meeting him on the Riviera, where she’s vacationing with her cold industrialist husband, Laurence (Joe Alwyn). It’s a tired, even cloying, setup, but the film is often fascinating and poignant, chiefly for the way that Frizzell balances a dynamic aesthetic energy with a generosity of spirit.

The film’s technical design has a way of near-intoxicatingly evoking the ecstasy of Jennifer and Anthony’s love more effectively than their platitudes about finally finding a soul mate. Sequences detailing Jennifer and Anthony’s relationship are marked by propulsive camerawork, an intricate and atmospheric tapestry of sound that effortlessly weaves in ‘60s pop love songs, and impressionistic splashes of color that make the film’s locations seem like Edenic refuges out of a Monet painting. Perhaps the moment that most memorably illustrates this is the kinetic, nearly dialogue-free sequence that finds Jennifer and Anthony in the heart of London’s bustling nightlife, caught up in the euphoria of their love.

These ‘60s-set scenes are intercut with the more uneven present-day story of another journalist, Ellie (Felicity Jones), who discovers Jennifer and Anthony’s old love letters in her publication’s archives. Ellie subsequently sets about reconnecting the pair, whose affair melodramatically ended after Jennifer suffered a bout of amnesia following a car accident. A tonal 180 from Jennifer and Anthony’s storyline, these present-day scenes are hampered by their clunky reliance on a screwball sense of humor to depict Ellie’s own fumbling with love.

But despite the fact that The Last Letter from Your Lover’s two narrative threads are tonally disparate, Ellie’s strong attraction to Jennifer and Anthony’s letters and her resulting reflection on the past offers an intriguing context in which to view Frizzell’s aesthetic choices in the ‘60s-set scenes. The highly romantic style that characterizes Jennifer and Anthony’s illicit affair is ultimately fitting since it channels how many of us nostalgically view the past: As something more enchanting than the present because it no longer exists.

Cast: Shailene Woodley, Felicity Jones, Callum Turner, Nabhaan Rizwan, Joe Alwyn, Ben Cross, Diana Kent Director: Augustine Frizzell Screenwriter: Nick Payne, Esta Spalding Distributor: Netflix Running Time: 110 min Rating: NR Year: 2021

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