This is the modern version of an altar to the goddess of love, Venus: petitions for success to an imaginary icon, vaguely resplendent in folklore but having no basis in reality. Ah, but we’re not dealing with reality here, we’re dealing in romance, which means that all rationality is out the window — or, more to the point, off the balcony.
Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) is an all-American girl who visits the famous non-historical landmark because her fiancé Victor (Gale Garcia Bernal), with whom she is supposedly vacationing, is very distracted. It seems he’s trying to open a gourmet restaurant back home, and is utilizing some excellent opportunities to learn the local vineyards and become acquainted with some of the renowned chefs. Every time she tries to talk to him, he has to take another phone call.
Finally, she just lets him pursue his business research, because she has become enamored of a romance herself.
She finds an old letter stuck behind one of the bricks in the wall beneath the famous balcony, written years ago by a young Claire (Vanessa Redgrave) about her lovely Lorenzo, whom she met while a student in Verona. Sophie, having met some self-appointed “Juliets” who actually answer the letters stuck in the wall, answers this letter herself, and a much more mature Claire (Vanessa Redgrave), responds. Claire is accompanied by her foppish, fastidious grandson Charlie (Christopher Egan), who as the only rational person in the entire film and thinks this whole quest is complete silliness. But Claire, now allied with Sophie, quixotically searches for the lost Lorenzo, hoping to recover that long-lost spark of youthful romance.
Have you ever attended a high school reunion and searched the not-quite-familiar faces for some glimmer of the young person who used to reside in there, and whom you still might recognize, if you concentrate hard enough — a glimmer in the eyes, the curve of a smile, a certain hand gesture, the timbre of voice, the unique expression? Somehow we remain who we are, buried under all our wrinkles and sagging, and distending. And all of us who are real romantics (read: ridiculous) hope along with Claire that she will instantly recognize her handsome Lorenzo, and he will still be charming and dashing, and will recognize her instantly, and sweep her up in his arms, as if he has been waiting for her return all of his life. (Hey, how can you have a chick flick without Prince Charming? He actually rides in on a galloping steed!)
Charlie, meanwhile, mostly forgets to be charming to Sophie, but somehow she finds herself falling for him anyway (go figure). Maybe negative attention is better than none. Victor, to his credit, at least honestly proclaims to her that he is who he is, and if she isn’t enamored, well, he’s not going to promise to change.
If we root for Charlie and Sophie’s rocky relationship, we are indeed incurable romantics, but if we weren’t, we wouldn’t be watching this film in the first place, would we?
RONALD P. SALFEN is pastor of Grace Church, Greenville, Texas.