FlixChatter Review: The Last Letter from Your Lover (2021)

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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Have you seen The Last Letter from Your Lover? Let me know what YOU think.

FlixChatter Review – HARRIET (2019)

Directed by: Kasi Lemmons
Written by: Gregory Allen Howard and Kasi Lemmons

When I first heard a movie about Harriet Tubman had been greenlit, I was both excited and apprehensive. With the casting of Cynthia Erivo in the titular role, with Janelle Monae, Joe Alwyn and Leslie Odom Jr. supporting, I knew we would be in for powerful performances. This is the first biopic of an enslaved woman and thus I had a lot of high hopes.

Cynthia Erivo with Leslie Odom Jr.

The film portrays Harriet as the brave, selfless person our history books tell us she was. However, it delves deeper by sharing her backstory. Born in Maryland in 1820, Araminta “Minty” Ross grew up in slavery. She married a free man named John Tubman and assumed she would earn her freedom. When it became clear she would never be emancipated, she had no choice but to flee.

Upon arriving in Pennsylvania, Araminta chose the new name Harriet and befriends a woman Marie (Monae), a free-born African American woman who runs a boarding house for women who were former slaves. There is a somewhat uncomfortable confrontation scene upon Harriet’s arrival where she calls out Marie on her privilege, for not knowing what it is like being a slave.

Janelle Monae as Marie

At a later point she also confronts the leaders of the Underground Railroad who are wavering in the wake of heavy crackdowns on runaway slaves. She gives a very moving speech decreeing she will “give every last drop of blood in my veins to free them.”

This is a unique look at privilege and its many layers. Harriet Tubman is a person many might not suspect of having privilege, yet she feels a God given call to the service of those still enslaved. This commitment inspires others (seemingly more fortunate) to recommit themselves to the cause. This very timely message to look inward and reflect upon the gifts in our lives and the privileges we have. In a time of police brutality and political unrest, this call to accountability and service of others could not be more relevant.

Cynthia Erivo with Vondie Curtis-Hall as Rev. Green

This film doesn’t shy away from the brutality of slavery as many past films have done. However, it  falls into an all too familiar linear slant that many educational or biopics take, which greatly impacted the narrative flow and my viewing enjoyment.

Another aspect that impacted its watchability, was the characterization of Gideon (a character added purely for movie drama). He is the son of Harriet’s former owner and upon her escape embarks on a ceaseless hunt to reclaim her. The humanity and conflict portrayed by Alwyn is stupendous. It creates some compassion and understanding of the complex dynamic and confusing feelings the master/slave relationship must have brought about. The producers tried to romanticize this pursuit, which was an unfortunate and ultimately ineffective choice.

Joe Alwyn as Gideon

The films slow pace and attempt to capture Harriets lifelong achievements are its undoing as it leaves the end feeling rushed. But overall, this film does an amazing job highlighting a figure whose full historical impact has been eclipsed by others such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcom X.

– Review by Jessie Zumeta


Have you seen HARRIET? Well, what did you think? 

Guest Review: Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (2016)

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Written/Directed By: Ang Lee
Cast: Joe Alwyn, Mackenzie Leigh, Steve Martin, Garrett Hedlund
Runtime: 1 hr 53 minutes

It is frustrating when a film has all the ingredients to be brilliant but ends up just a good movie. The story of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (2016) is an original and painfully satirical study of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It is also a film limited by all-too-obvious visual messages and clichéd one-liners that reduce a possible artwork to an emotionally tame and uneven film.

The story unfolds over a single day in America with flashbacks to a live combat incident in Iraq. A news clip goes viral when young army specialist Billy Lynn (Joe Alwyn) is filmed trying to save the life of his sergeant.  His Bravo squad are celebrated as heroes and given a two-week promotional tour across America to boost dwindling support for the war. The tour highlight is an appearance in a glitzy halftime show at a Dallas Cowboys game. They are ushered around like a troupe of performing monkeys with little regard for what they have been through or how glaring theatrics might affect soldiers coming straight out of battle. Meanwhile, their tour guide is trying to stitch up a film deal with the tightwad team owner (played by Steve Martin) as virgin Billy falls for a cheerleader (Mackenzie Leigh) who loves war heroes.

The storyline bears little resemblance to the typical war genre film, but this one is not about guns, bombs and bodies. Filmed in ultra-high definition with extensive shallow depth of field, Billy and the squad are often in pin-sharp focus against soft backgrounds, a technique that keeps them in a separate plane of existence to the crassly insensitive stage onto which they have been thrust. The surreal stadium scenes are a spectacular but clichéd message about commodity wars for a public wanting to ‘make America great again’. It is hard not to empathise with Billy or feel his disorientation as he watches prancing cheerleaders and hears musical fireworks exploding all around him while he struggles with flashbacks of hand-to-hand combat in the midst of a mortar firestorm.

There is much to commend in this film. Young Joe Alwyn plays a complex role with nuance beyond his experience. The cinematography is vivid (almost to the point of distraction), and the pace and casting is strong (although comic Steve Martin seems out of place). A lighter directorial hand may have produced a more naturally flowing story without the corny melodrama and trite one-liners like “that day no longer belongs to you…its America’s story now” or “we’re a nation of children who fight in other countries to grow up”. But you will long remember that stadium extravaganza as an echo-chamber for the horrors of PTSD. For that alone, this film is worth seeing.

cinemuseRichard Alaba, PhD
CineMuse Films
Member, Australian Film Critics Association
Sydney, Australia


Have you seen ‘Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk’? Well, what did you think?