The Love Letter (1999) starring Kate Capshaw, Blythe Danner, Ellen DeGeneres, Julianne Nicholson, Tom Everett Scott, Tom Selleck, Gloria Stuart, Geraldine McEwan directed Peter Chan Movie Review

The Love Letter (1999)   3/53/53/53/53/5

Kate Capshaw and Tom Everett Scott in The Love Letter

Loblolly by the Sea goes European

"The Love Letter" feels like an American version of a European movie, one of those amusing and quirky romantic comedies which come out of Italy and France. It has all the characteristics from the style, the characters, picturesque locations, humour and a beautifully European soundtrack. But sadly "The Love Letter" lacks the charm and warmth especially when it comes to the central characters making it difficult to warm to them and what's worse it resorts to an unexpected twist to try and make it more than it is which whilst amusing feels out of place. As such "The Love Letter" whilst okay fails to really come to life and ends up being remarkably average.

Helen (Kate Capshaw - Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom) is in control of her life; she goes for long runs to make up for no romance and runs a book store in the small town of Loblolly by the Sea. But one day whilst going through the shops post she discovers the most romantic love letter and whilst unsigned believes it's for her. It warms her emotionally frozen heart and when Johnny (Tom Everett Scott - That Thing You Do!), a collegiate employee, starts quoting lines she believes he was the author, embarking on a relationship despite Johnny being many years younger. What Helen doesn't realise is that Johnny also found the love letter and has just been quoting the words, plus there is long time friend George (Tom Selleck - In & Out) who has kept his feelings about Helen secret, not to mention Helen's mum who suddenly returns to the town having made a rapid exit many years earlier.

Tom Selleck and Ellen DeGeneres in The Love Letter

It has to be said that whilst "The Love Letter" is an adaptation of a Cathleen Schine novel it does feel familiar and something you would expect to have come out of France or Italy. The whole storyline about a single woman discovering a love letter and ending up falling for a college student that she mistakenly believes wrote it to her has that comedy derived from confusion which is done so brilliantly in European movies. And that comedy from confusion continues throughout as there is the handsome best friend who has always had a thing for her, the shop assistant who also discovers the letter and thinks it is for her and to be honest it goes on because this love letter causes a string of romantic situations and misunderstandings. Whilst obvious that things will become confusing as to who actually wrote the love letter it is also amusing in a gentle way.

And that whole European feel continues to the whole style of "The Love Letter". The port side location in the little town where everyone seems to know everyone else's business makes me instantly think of "Il Postino". And the variety of characters all feel like they have been plucked from a number of European movies. But it is the soundtrack, full of romantic accordion playing, which really makes you think that "The Love Letter" is trying to be European and to be honest the soundtrack is one of the best things about the movie.

But where as a similar European movie would deliver warmth and characters you grow to like there is little of that in "The Love Letter". It tries to be charming and create a varied bunch of lovable characters but it tries too hard especially when it comes to the relationship which forms between Helen and Johnny which ends up feeling quite uncomfortable. But what's worse is that whilst you watch, waiting for the big reveal as to where the love letter came from when it arrives it's so out of place that it is wrong. In fact it feels like the big reveal has been thrown in, been created to shock without any consideration as to whether it really ties in to the story which has been created. It's very much a case that "The Love Letter" is spoilt because it tries too hard and by trying to hard it becomes forced rather than naturally amusing.

And sadly it is the actors and their performances which end up contributing to "The Love Letter" being forced. Kate Capshaw who plays Helen does a nice job of this middle aged single mother who finds her life turned upside down when she discovers the love letter but then almost becomes a caricature when she embarks on a relationship with collegiate Johnny. Tom Everett Scott is exactly the same as Johnny because there are moments where he gets the young man in love with an older woman just right but then forces it and ends up bordering on the creepy. And it goes on because with a cast which features Tom Selleck, Blythe Danner, Gloria Stuart, Geraldine McEwan and Ellen DeGeneres it is a case where to a point they get their characters right but then end up going too far and becoming false.

What this all boils down to is that "The Love Letter" feels like it's trying to be an American take on a European romantic comedy, the sort of movie which the French and the Italians do so well. And to a point it delivers with the style, the humour derived from confusion and a wonderfully romantic soundtrack but then it ends up trying too hard and the simple charm that the movie needs is lost by it becoming forced especially with a twist which just doesn't feel like it fits.