If the last letter you received from your lover was as banal as Augustine Frizzell’s new feature, you’d dump them like a shot. But mercifully for box office figures, we have all missed going to the movies so are inclined to be more open-minded towards snarky men spouting cliches and the women who love them. As long as their dramas play out on the big screen.
At first glance, The Last Letter from Your Lover is the bland, romance by numbers you find in large print novels on local library shelves or mildewing and neglected on a three for a fiver carousel in a caravan park shop. Safe and predictable with tick boxes for a neglectful hubby, Chanel suits, a caddish chap and foreign holibobs. However, this love story has been pepped up by the Soda Stream fizz of a parallel storyline to tickle your fancy when you tire of pillbox hats and longing.
Jennifer Stirling (Shailene Woodley) is feeling a bit fragile after crashing into a plot device that has given her amnesia. She has temporarily forgotten her loveless marriage to Larry (Joe Alwyn) and her deep meaningful connection with Boot (Callum Turner) with whom she planned to flee. Her’s is the upper-class London of the sixties, all boozy dinner parties, fabulous clothes and wives knowing their place.
Even if features editor Ellie (Felicity Jones) knew her place, she’d do her damnedest to avoid spending a single second in it. She’s a one-woman feistiness flashmob; rebelliously eating pastries in forbidden places and refusing to abide by society’s crazy rules like having the respect to check out archival material properly. Ellie’s in present-day London, hot on the heels of Jennifer’s story with only the letters she exchanged with Boot as her guide.
Jennifer too needs help finding her way, and finding herself, as she navigates London following breadcrumbs left by her past self in the letters hidden throughout her perfect home. Piecing together the shattered story of their bond she realises that a true wrong has been done but feels powerless to set things right. Meanwhile, Ellie’s overpowering personality has inexplicably attracted the attention of sweet archivist Rory (Nabhaan Rizwan) who helps her with her quest.
Like Me Before You, The Last Letter from Your Lover is based on a novel by Jojo Moyes but mercifully neither of these protagonists need a disabled man to sacrifice himself for them to find their happy places so perhaps Moyes has learned from the criticism she received. The film does, however, needlessly kill off an Italian bar manager to give Jennifer something dramatic to barely react to, so perhaps not…
It is evident from the opulent costumes and lush locations – cooly appraised by George Steel’s stunning cinematography – that Frizzell was aiming for a blast of cinema past yet this is An Affair to Forget rather than a heartfelt throwback to silver screen classics. Writers Esta Spalding and Nick Payne have failed to create a compelling foundation to build such pretty pictures on. The viewing experience ends up neatly divided between rolling ones eyes at the wearying predictability and admiring Jennifer’s very strong winged eyeliner game.
We are supposed to infer that Jennifer is a bright and three-dimensional person from her icy retorts to Boot’s initial rudeness and the handful of occasions when she is shown sunbathing with or contemplating a book. In reality, the only remarkable things about her are her wardrobe and her manicure. She is presented as a beautiful bird in a gilded cage, lured out to play by a philanderer with a twinkle in his eye. It’s style over substance and limerence rather than love but their secret correspondence still captures Ellie’s limited imagination.
The present-day storyline, rather than offering winsome Julie and Julia conflicts and contrasts with the past, distracts by evoking the unintentionally hilarious Last Christmas. Both allow sensitive, charismatic love interests to be enchanted by women who are entitled dicks. The Last Letter from Your Lover concerns itself, wholly, with matters of the heart. What a shame that ultimately it doesn’t have one.
The Last Letter from Your Lover opens in cinemas on 6th August