Letters to Juliet -- a witless ninny of a movie about Italy, romantic disillusion, Shakespeare, history, more Italy and getting to "yes" in love and intimacy -- appears to have been thrown together with help from some remaindered filmmaking manual: chapters 7 and 8, perhaps, the ones headed "Pandering for Beginners" and "Maximizing Your Date-Movie Demographic." In that spirit, with apologies to Robert McKee and without permission from director Gary Winick, let's break this flick's structure down for all the aspiring filmmakers out there:
ACT I. Setup, molto foreshadowing. Despite long blond hair, humongous green eyes, Bambi legs and degree from Brown University (in that order), aspiring writer Sophie has the galloping ennuis. Fact-checking gig at the New Yorker, formerly lusted after by brunette chick from The Devil Wears Prada, offer insufficient challenge to restless intellect of Sophie (Amanda Seyfried), despite molto droll banter with dryly witty editor-in-chief Oliver Platt. Engagement to chic but distracted Latin restaurateur Victor (Gael Garcia Bernal, jabbering) awash in vague unease. Uh-oh.
ACT II. When in doubt, flee to Italy, where fulfillment awaits along with gently rolling green hills and softly lit al fresco dinners. But first, molto trouble, runaway subplots, more foreshadowing. In crevice of picturesque wall in Verona, lovelorn distaff leave notes for Shakespeare heroine seeking advice. (Note: This happens, for reals, as heard on Elvis Costello album about Juliet letters. Authenticity rules!) Sophie stumbles on 50-year-old note from British maiden besotted with local vintner. Smells writing project and adventure; summons said maiden, now snowy-haired, from Britain with offer to scour gently rolling hills and rustic villages for long-lost love. Road-movie alert!
Enter Claire (Vanessa Redgrave -- bit classy for this kind of thing, but Shakespeare connection works, no?) along with sulky but totally hot grandson Charlie (Christopher Egan); he blond, blue-eyed, pectorally endowed, equipped with toffee-nosed accent not heard in England outside playing fields of Eton. Finesse dialogue to underscore endearing cultural diffs: Sophie: "awesome"; Charlie: "splendid," "tomartoes," that sort of thing. Instant hostility! Meanwhile set up romantic growth potential with discovery of mutual motherlessness, hence wariness of commitment, blah, blah.
Stuff scenes with warm replacement mothers -- voluptuous Italian matriarchs with throaty voices, plunging necklines and buckets of folk wisdom on demand. Helpful examples from pen of scribe Jose Rivera (Motorcycle Diaries): "Men are like fine wine. They take a long time to mature." From surrogate-mom-in-chief Claire: "Life is the messy bits."
Allora! Molto messy bits. Stuff action with grizzled codgers pretending to be Claire's long-lost Lorenzo, followed by barrel-chested genuine article on horseback (Franco Nero, Redgrave's actual husband -- cute, no?), now filthy-rich owner of winery. Find pronto way to dump Sophie fiance, though come to think of it Bernal a lot less bland than soggy Egan. (Oh well, whatevs.) Place Atlantic Ocean briefly between young lovers, then:
ACT III. Elder wedding, followed by piccolo misunderstanding, quickly corrected in climactic balcony scene, played for giggles. Exeunt omnes, in conga line.
(OK, I made up that last, but you get the picture.)
Lighting tips: Rotate sunny, warm, golden, moonlit. Tips for all-purpose soundtrack: Taylor Swift singing "Love Story," plus "Di Mi Quando," also "I'm a Believer" -- in Italian.
Tips for aspiring blockbuster craftsmen: Any old hack can do this. One just did.