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Letters to Juliet

Utterly predictable romance saved by Vanessa Redgrave and plenty of Italian scenery

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After 50 years -- and spurred by a random act -- a widowed Englishwoman named Claire (Vanessa Redgrave) returns to Italy to search for her erstwhile youthful boyfriend. I sit through a lot of romances with my eyeballs rolling at the idiotic plots designed to hammer home "true love" myths, but this one -- well, I'm embarrassed to admit that this is pretty much what happened to my elderly widowed English aunt, crazy time gap and random event included. (He was Portuguese, not Italian, but yes, they're married now.)

Of course, Hollywood feels that the romantic travails of the older crowd needed to be prettied up with young people. Thus, in Gary Winick's romance, we also get a subplot about an American aspiring journalist (Amanda Seyfried). She tags along on Claire's search and, naturally, under the spell of the Tuscan sun, falls for Claire's uptight grandson (Christopher Egan). It's all relatively harmless -- a gorgeous picture postcard with a whisper of a plot attached -- and for a chick flick comes with some recommendations: the romantic feelings of the oldsters are treated with dignity; the two female leads are attractive but not stick figures; and there is no frantic or hysterical nonsense.

What really helps is Redgrave: The veteran actress, who looks weathered and fabulous, classes up this rather thin story. The best part of the tale is never articulated, but only written across Redgrave's face: This is a woman searching less for the greeting-card fantasy of One True Lost Love, than simply for chance to feel alive. Starts Fri., May 14.

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