Romantic dramas based on a book are a dime a dozen in Hollywood, and this one is based on Jojo Moyes‘s 2012 romance novel of the same name. To be honest, I’m not that familiar with her work but I remember her other novel Me Before You was also made into a movie, which I have yet to see.
The film features a pair of interwoven stories, set in the past and present with its own set of romantic pairing. In 1965 London, there’s the wealthy and gorgeous young couple, Jennifer and Lawrence Stirling (Shailene Woodley + Joe Alwyn).
Lawrence is a successful industrialist and the two seem like a match made in heaven, except their marriage is cold and distant. There’s a scar on Jennifer’s face and it’s slowly revealed she’s been in a car accident that causes her to have Amnesia. Meanwhile, journalist Ellie Haworth (Felicity Jones) is awake in a man’s bed and despite him appearing interested in her, she made a dash out the door after calling him by the wrong name, twice. We’re supposed to think of her as a modern, independent woman with a blasé attitude about love and romance. Yet, when she stumbles upon a trove of secret love letters from the 60s during work research, she is immediately intrigued and wants to solve the mystery of this love affair.
I must admit I have a thing for letters in movies… there’s something so enchanting about hand-written correspondence in the digital era. Letter writing is pretty much a lost art as people often make or break relationships via text these days. One day, a journalist named Anthony O’Hare (Callum Turner) turns up at the Stirling’s luxurious resort in the South of France on assignment to interview Lawrence. When he’s called away on business, as he often is, Jennifer and Anthony immediately formed a bond. Of course it’s no surprise that the initial friendship turns to romance, and Anthony asks Jennifer to run away with him to New York and leave her loveless marriage of convenience behind. As the Bard said in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, “the course of true love never did run smooth” … such is the case between these star-crossed lovers that make up the A + J in the letters.
Director Augustine Frizzell does her best in balancing the parallel storyline, which is a tricky task, but I feel like the constant back and forth between the two stories could’ve been smoother. That’s not the biggest issue for me though, but more in the chemistry, or should I say lack thereof, between the two couples. It’s crucial in a love story like this to be invested in the couple that make up the romance. Alas, the relationships of all involved feel superficial and lacking serious heat, despite the film packing ALL the quintessential romantic setting. Alluring European location, check. Christmas-y scenery with fluffy snowfalls, check. Hand touching/kissing in the rain, check. It sure is beautiful visually, but at the end of the day, it’s the genuine human connection that makes any film memorable.
I wonder if the casting is the issue. Right from the trailer, I was already skeptical about Turner’s casting and he didn’t exactly prove me wrong. Strangely enough, though Woodley is younger than both Turner AND Alwyn, she looks much more mature in the film, not sure if it’s the makeup or her outfits, but perhaps just the way she carries herself. Both Turner and Alwyn look more like frat-boys that it’s hard for me to take seriously. I think generally speaking the female performers out-acted the male ones by a long stretch here.
The pairing of Jones and Nabhaan Rizwan fares a bit better though. Again it’s no surprise that Ellie forms a bond with Rory, the sweet and polite chap working at the Archives department who’s helping her with the letter investigation Now, it’s not that they have a scorching chemistry, but their tentative romance feels more endearing perhaps because there’s less riding on their romance being all-consuming passion like the one between A & J. I do give the casting director props for finding suitable mature actors to play the older Anthony and Jennifer (Ben Cross and Diana Kent), which works quite well in the brief moment they appear on screen.
Now, I haven’t read the book so I can’t say if this is a faithful adaptation. There isn’t much depth in the film version, but I have a feeling there’s more complexity in the book that we don’t see. Apart from the fact that Lawrence is constantly traveling, he is not a horrible husband per se, but we’re expected to think what Jennifer does to him is justified. There’s even less we know about Ellie and Rory, and for someone who seemingly doesn’t care much about love and romance, Ellie sure goes out of her way to act the opposite.
The Last Letter From Your Lover is such a romantic title that immediately conjures up thoughts of a swoon-worthy affair. Unfortunately the actual movie is less swoon-inducing but more melodramatic and formulaic. I suppose this is a decent movie to pass the time on a slow Saturday afternoon, but far from being a romance classic. As far as films dealing with infidelity goes, best to just rent Brief Encounter that’s guaranteed to leave you breathless.