The soapy, melodramatic romance, "The Last Letter from Your Lover" has it all when it comes to what one might expect from such a film: Forlorn lovers, forbidden affairs, characters with amnesia, car wrecks, handwritten letters complete with voice-over, lavish costume designs and sets, chance encounters, and a love that spans decades.
It's a bit predictable and unapologetically cheesy at times, but it's also reminiscent of a different era of film...they just don't make movies like this one anymore, so it feels oddly invigorating to see that this sort of classic romance is still alive and well, at least on the big-screen.
"The Last Letter from Your Lover" is based on a 2008 novel by British novelist/screenwriter, Jojo Moyes. It tells two separate love stories: One set in 1960s London and one set in modern times.
In the contemporary thread, the emotionally closed-off and promiscuous journalist, Ellie (Felicity Jones), befriends her outlet's archivist, Rory (Nabhaan Rizwan), as they investigate a love letter that was found tucked away in a book. Their breadcrumbs lead them to the flashback story, where Jennifer Stirling (Shailene Woodley) is trying to piece together her life after suffering amnesia. She is married to a rich but callous aristocrat (Joe Alwyn), but something isn't right. Prior to the accident (another thread told in flashback), she was on the verge of a torrid affair with another man, Anthony (Callum Turner). Ellie (and therefore the viewer) become invested in where these relationships led to, and if Jennifer ever did find happiness.
The movie flows in a straight-forward and traditional manner, leaning heavily on Shailene Woodley and Callum Turner, both of whom are up for the challenge and deliver fantastic performances. Felicity Jones as Ellie is a little less effective...whether it's written that way on the page or if it's something Jones brings to the role, or both, she's not all that likable, and we see where her story is going miles ahead. The real meat is in finding out whether Jennifer and Anthony will end up together, and every time we flash-forward to Ellie and Rory shuffling through old files and newspapers looking for clues, the movie suffers.
In addition to the strong central performances, "The Last Letter from Your Lover" also leans heavily into romantic clichés. A scar on Jennifer's face is a convenient cue to the audience as to what timeline we're currently dealing with. Of course Jennifer's husband is a jerk...it makes us root for her and Anthony all the more. The entire framing of the film, with the love story being slowly revealed by the modern-day couple as new letters and clues are discovered, feels a bit manipulative. But still, it manages to avoid being dull throughout...an achievement quite frankly, given the drama at hand.
Shailene Woodley is so good in her role, that she deserves some consideration later this year once awards chatter begins. The fact that "The Last Letter from Your Lover" is "just OK" though, puts her squarely in that doomed category of "great performance trapped in a mediocre film," a category that more often than not is ultimately overlooked.
Still, optimism in movies is a rare commodity these days, so if you love Pina Coladas or getting stuck in the rain, then "The Last Letter from Your Lover" may just be your type of escape. It misses the opportunity to give us some good contrasts between modern and old-fashioned love with the uninteresting present-day relationship, but the forbidden fruit served up by its flashback romance is as sweet as ever.
Genre: Romance, Drama.
Run Time: 1 hour 50 minutes.
Rating not available.
Starring: Shailene Woodley, Felicity Jones, Callum Turner, Nabhaan Rizwan, Joe Alwyn.
Based on the book by Jojo Moyes.
Directed by Augustine Frizzell ("Never Goin' Back").
"The Last Letter from Your Lover" is on Netflix on Friday, July 23rd, 2021.
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