May 12 2010 12:00 AM

Waiting for ’Eclipse’? Don’t forget ’Juliet’


Sure, there’s “Iron Man 2,” “Robin Hood” and “Shrek Forever After.” But for millions of young women, the movie date of the year happens on June 30 when “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse” arrives in theaters.

Summit Entertainment, which distributes the “Twilight” films, is hoping many of those eagerly awaiting “Eclipse” will use this weekend to check out “Letters to Juliet,” a romantic comedy-drama the studio is positioning as a kind of curtain-raiser for the “Twilight” juggernaut. For weeks, Summit has been holding screenings of “Juliet” in cities big and small, hoping to generate favorable buzz around a film that isn’t based on a series of best sellers and doesn’t have much in the way of supernaturally tinged teen angst.

For its target audience, the selling point of “Juliet” is Amanda Seyfried, the willowy star of HBO’s “Big Love,” “Mamma Mia!” and “Dear John.” Although she was the supporting actress in the horror-comedy “Jennifer’s Body,” Seyfried earned glowing reviews that put supposed leading lady Megan Fox to shame: Talk about an eclipse.

But while Seyfried is quite charming in “Juliet,” she generously shares the spotlight with the resplendent Vanessa Redgrave, and the tenderness between them drives the film. The two women may be two generations apart, but they have no trouble establishing genuine chemistry.

As for whether “Letters” will get a warm reception from women, I’ll give you this report: I took my sister and my three nieces (ages 13, 15 and 17) to a screening, and all of them said they planned to see it again. And, on Mothers Day, my Mom let me know she wanted to see the film and was perturbed she had not gotten a screening pass. Sorry, Mom: I had no idea you even knew who Amanda Seyfried was.

Seyfried plays Sophie, a fact-checker at The New Yorker who secretly entertains ambitions of being a writer. She’s engaged to restaurant owner Victor (Gael Garcia Bernal), who coaxes her into traveling to Italy with him on a “pre-honeymoon” trip.

In Verona, Sophie meets a group of women known as “the secretaries of Juliet” who take it upon themselves to answer letters from the lovelorn that are left on a wall in the courtyard of what is thought to be the former Capulet residence.

Sophie finds a heartwrenching note written by a British girl some 50 years ago, lamenting the fact that she and her Italian boyfriend were about to be pried apart by family obligations. The words are so touching that Sophie decides to roll the dice and answer the letter. Within days, she’s face-toface with the author, Claire (Redgrave), now in her 70s but still haunted by “the man that got away.”

Most of “Juliet” involves Sophie and Claire scouring the Italian countryside for Claire’s long-lost love, while Claire’s grandson, Charlie (Egan), begs them to come to their senses. The scenery is so sumptuous, however, that you hope they never will: Director Gary Winick and cinematographer Marco Pontecorvo stop just short of drooling over windswept meadows, fields of glorious sunflowers and a pale pink moon floating in a navy blue Tuscan sky.

The predictable plot fades into the background as Pontecorvo’s camera caresses the lovely faces of Seyfried and Redgrave, both of whom are stunningly photographed. Redgrave radiates a fascinating combination of hard-won wisdom, hopefulness and vulnerability, while Seyfried, with her champagne-colored hair and sly smile, looks more than ever like the perfect center point between the Michelle Pfeiffer of the 1980s and the Uma Thurman of the 1990s.

There’s nothing in the credits to indicate “Letters to Juliet” was financed by the Italian Tourism Board (or the Amanda Seyfried or Vanessa Redgrave Fan Clubs), although it might as well have been. But hey, sooner or later we’re all going to wind up watching commercials — they might as well be for something worthy of admiration.

For reviews see Cole Smithey’s Movie Week at