Joyce Glasser reviews The Last Letter from Your Lover (August 6, 2021) Cert 12A, 109 mins.
There’s a whiff of a Nicholas Sparks novel in the unabashed romance that saturates The Last Letter from Your Lover, but the film is not another Sparks’ movie adaptation: it’s another Jojo Moyes’ adaptation. If you liked Me Before You, you might like Augustine Frizzell’s generation hopping chick flick. In adapting Moyes’ novel, writers Nick Payne and Esta Spalding force together – by the thinnest of links – two love stories, so different in tone, character, setting and period that they seem to be two films. What they have in common is the high cliché count in each and a sense of déjà vue that you can never shake off.
Jennifer (Shailene Woodley) is unhappily married to rich, pompous businessman Larry (Joe Alwyn) who is bringing her back from hospital to their impressive home. Jennifer has survived a car crash but bares a facial scar (like Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter) and, worse, amnesia. The suspense Hitchcock created around his amnesia patient in Spellbound is not in the cards however, and it is a hidden stash of letters that helps Jennifer piece together the truth that Larry has been hiding from her.
After a while we learn that the accident occurred as Jennifer was rushing to the train station (shades of An Affair to Remember) to run off with her lover Anthony (Callum Turner) a journalist who had come to write an article on Larry’s business empire. Through flash backs we see them fall in love. Cue montages of Anthony and Jennifer letting her hair down dancing in a nightclub; having passionate sex in a back room and lounging on Larry’s yacht in the Riviera with Anthony where the interview takes place.
Larry ends up writing more than an article. He is a committed writer of passionate love letters and a few of these are discovered not only in the 1960s by Larry, but in present day England by journalist Ellie (Felicity Jones). Ellie is a ditzy – but intelligent and desirable, of course – “Bridget Jones” type who takes a minute each morning to remember whose bed she is waking up in. We cannot hold that against her as she is really just a wholesome, well-educated, single woman with a good job who is recovering from a relationship gone sour.
It is while on an assignment in an archive (which apparently Ellie does not frequent, as she arrives with a prohibited croissant and coffee) that she discovers one of fellow-journalist Anthony’s letters. What is it about journalists in movies? Here, they represent free-spirited, romantics as opposed to the rest of the world which is repressed and repressive.
Ellie also meets Rory (Nabhaan Rizwan, in a purely functional role), the smitten archivist who is soon drawn into Ellie’s research and as lonely and single as she is. The two can be seen sprawled out on the floor examining documents like in a detective movie, but with the regret of thwarted love, not the morbid corpses, drawing them together and ensuring the missed opportunity they are researching is not repeated.
Once the puzzle has been pieced together Ellie decides to intervene in the sad story and reunite the lovers. But she and Rory have to learn what has become of them and whether they are even alive…
Shailene Woodley burst onto the scene in her breakthrough year (2014), when she managed to make the dystopian teen action thrillers, The Divergent Series entertaining for adults and managed to pull off the maudlin dying teen romance, The Fault in our Stars. More recently she appears in the hit TV series Big Little Lies.
Felicity Jones, perhaps best known for playing Jane Hawking in The Theory of Everything more recently, and more ambitiously, portrayed the iconic American feminist and Supreme Court Judge, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in On the Basis of Sex. Jones has hardly challenged herself with The Last Letter from Your Lover or broken new ground.
So, what are these two talents (and the woefully underutilised Joe Alwyn, for that matter, so great in Ang Lee’s Billy Lyn’s Long Halftime Walk, Mary Queen of Scots and the Oscar winning, The Favourite) doing in a film like this? To know that we must ask them. For Jones and Woodley are Executive Producers (as is Frizzell) hoping, as are many actresses and directors today, to take control of their future by backing the films women want to see.
The Last Letter from Your Lover might be a film women want to see in the same way as are the Nicholas Sparks adaptations, but is it any good? The parallel story technique is a rarity for many reasons, but when it succeeds, as with Nora Ephron’s masterful comedy, Julie and Julia, it can be the only way to tell a story. Here it does not work because the stories are too unbalanced and their links too contrived.
Some women will be drawn into the story by George Steel’s dramatic cinematography, Woodley’s hair and costume changes, the glamour of the Riviera scenes, and the agonising “will they or won’t they” of films like A Man and A Woman. Unfortunately, Woodley and Turner lack the chemistry that lit between Anouk Aimée and Jean-Louis Trintignant.
Joyce Glasser, Mature Times film critic.