Amanda Seyfried can’t save “Letters to Juliet;” “Just Wright” is alright

By Sean O’Connell Competing storybook romances open in theaters today, and surprisingly, the one that’s centered around the hapless New Jersey Nets competing for an NBA Championship is the more believable of the two.

Letters to Juliet (*1/2 out of 4)

Gary Winick’s “Letters to Juliet” is a sappily-ever-after fairy tale. It’s picturesque, with gorgeous photographs of romantic Verona, Italy. But the action that takes place in the desirable European setting is woefully processed. Even those who wholeheartedly subscribe to the possibilities of true love will gag on the gallons of syrup that ooze off the screen.

At least you know right away this is a fantasy. How else could the movie explain that doe-eyed Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) earns enough money as a fact-checker for The New Yorker to jet-set to Italy on a pre-wedding honeymoon with her workaholic fiancée (Gael Garcia Bernal)? She also has no trouble hanging around the scenic Italian countryside for weeks after she finds a decades-old love letter, befriends lovesick Claire (Vanessa Redgrave) and her petulant grandson, Charlie (Christopher Egan), and accompanies them on a quest to find Claire’s soul mate. In reality, Sophie’s boss (played by an uncredited Oliver Platt) would have fired her on the spot. In “Juliet,” he’s thrilled she returns to Manhattan with a publishable story.

Too bad she couldn’t unearth a filmable script. “Letters to Juliet” defines pre-packaged storytelling. Conflicts in the script are ham-fisted and forced. Resolutions are predictably manufactured. You never once believe any of this could ever happen. Sophie’s story starts with an improbable premise, quickly tumbles into the realm of impossible plot contrivances, and never attempts to recover. Even the film’s alleged payoff — the fateful moment when Claire finally reunites with her long-lost Lorenzo (Franco Nero) that has been spoiled by the trailers and TV commercials — relies on such a lazy, ludicrous coincidence that’s poorly planned and shamelessly executed.

“Letters to Juliet” does things by the book. The story book. To see the trailer is to see the whole film. The only surprise left to discover about “Juliet” is that the script was written by a guy. Two of them, in fact. Blame Jose Rivera and Tim Sullivan, who — according to — haven’t collaborated on any projects prior to “Juliet.” And if there’s goddess up in heaven reading this review, she’ll make sure they never collaborate on anything as simplistic as this, again.

Just Wright (** out of 4)

Equally fantastical yet a smidge more believable is Sanaa Hamri’s romantic “Just Wright,” which stars a commendably tender Common (“Wanted”) as an ailing NBA star torn between gorgeous gold-digger Morgan (Paula Patton) and kind-hearted athletic trainer Leslie (Queen Latifah).

Choosing between the two shouldn’t be difficult. Leslie’s a die-hard Nets fan, and a sweet girl who exudes charm, personality and class. As for Morgan, she looks like Paula Patton, which is a decided advantage!

We all know just where “Just Wright” is going. Hollywood wouldn’t let Common choose Patton over Latifah (and the “Precious” star does an excellent job of uglying her personality so we can look past her natural beauty and root against her). And it takes long time to get to its destination, distracting us with NBA cameos (it seems like the Nets perpetually were playing Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic). But Latifah’s so likable, and she truthfully connects with Common. In the realm of romantic comedies, “Just Wright” is just alright.


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One Comment

  • May 19, 2010 | Permalink |

    THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU! For using the proper terminology regarding Queen Latifahs character in this movie! ATHLETIC TRAINER! Not sports trainer, physical trainer, personal trainer, trainer or phyical therapist…..ATHLETIC TRAINER! AWESOME!!!!

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