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Twaddle and hooey driven by a self-absorbed blonde

May 19, 2010 at 12:00 am

In the increasingly circumscribed realm of the "chick flick," there are only so many opportunities for an ambitious young gal on the move. Journalism is one of a handful of acceptable vocations for a post-feminist movie princess, thus explaining this film's heroine's highfalutin gig as a New Yorker fact checker. Amanda Seyfried is a blond tabula rasa, a comely vessel to contain the anxieties and aspirations of the target audience, and her Sophie isn't content with simply having a media job, but dreams of writing and landing the big scoop, Jean Arthur-style, except minus any spark or verve. She also has an unspoken disaffection with her relationship with a passionate, slightly scattered chef, played by the hipster dreamboat Gael García Bernal. His great crime? He's distracted by the trivial task of opening a gourmet restaurant in midtown Manhattan, and doesn't have a lot of time to daydream about sconces with his fiancee. Still they take a "pre honeymoon" to quaint Verona, Italy, where she declines to tag along as he hunts for truffles and bids on rare wines, and thus busies herself getting in other people's business. 

Anyway, Sophie stumbles on a courtyard where tourists leave letters to Juliet Capulet, expecting advice, as if she were some Shakespearean Ann Landers. She quickly lands her first creative writing assignment, crafting tender replies to the lovelorn alongside a room full of chatty old biddies who call themselves the "secretaries of Juliet." One of those letters was stuck in a crevice for 50 years, but Sophie still dashes off a reply, leading its elderly British author Claire to rush off to the continent and search for her long-lost summer fling. She's played with enormous charm by the graceful Vanessa Redgrave, and accompanied by her stuffy twit grandson Charlie (Christopher Egan), who spends a lot of time sticking his stiff upper lip out at Sophie, before surrendering to her giggly charms. Ladies, help me out here: Would you really give the boot to Gael García Bernal in favor of a fourth-rate Heath Ledger? Really, what sort of self-absorbed, diet-obsessed bitch doesn't get excited by wine and cheese? 

The trio sets out looking for Claire's love, Lorenzo, a not-shockingly common name in Italy, leading to a road trip through endless vistas of sun-dappled vineyard stretched across gentle, cascading hills, each shot calculated to make Ohio housewives swoon. It's all a load of enchanted-castle hokum, with the admirable but unearned moral that true love is just so darn magical that you'd be a fool to spend a nanosecond of your life without it. The conspicuous Taylor Swift song is a clear indicator that this trifle has nothing interesting to say about romance; it's merely puppy love with grace notes added by an ageless star.