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Love Letter

movie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Love Letter

Starring: Kate Capshaw, Ellen DeGeneres
Director: Peter Chan
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 88 Minutes
Release Date: May 1999
Genres: Comedy, Romance

*Also starring: Tom Selleck, Tom Everett Scott, Gloria Stuart

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

There may be some good reasons for living in a picturesque small town but you'd never know this from seeing "The Love Letter." A film about a sleepy burg whose drowsy, if eccentric, beings are awakened by an anonymous billet doux, "The Love Letter" is so slight, so insipid, that a viewer can scarcely find much therein to love or hate. Just a spoonful of sugar less sweet than "Message in a Bottle," at least director Peter Ho-Sun Chan's movie based on a novel by Maria Cathleen Schine and adapted for the screen by Maria Maggenti, does not take itself seriously. Even Ellen DeGeneres--who once again steals every scene she is in-- appears to sleepwalk her way through the tale, or at least appears to do so when you compare her performance with her work in "EdTV."

"The Love Letter" borrows a technique used so successfully in works from playwrights from Plautus through Shakespeare and beyond--mistaken identity with the comic and romantic touches that can emerge from such deception. The enigma in question centers on a mysterious writer, although his or her identity (revealed in the final moments) is not important. What is consequential is the buried feelings that some of the most unlikely characters possess and how the possibility of having a secret admirer makes residents of Loblolly, Massachusetts (actually filmed in that state's town of Rockport) spring to life.

When the owner of the town's bookstore, Helen (Kate Capshaw), receives an unsigned, typewritten note professing love, she assumes the dispatch is directed to her and begins to fantasy who might be preoccupied with thoughts of her. When people speak to her in everyday terms, she imagines their declaring unbridled passion. She leaves the note by a wine bottle where it is picked up by her dinner guest and summer assistant, the twenty-year-old Johnny (Tom Everett Scott), who is certain that the letter is Helen's and that it is directed to him. Gradually the note finds its way into the hands of a few others in Loblolly with similar effects. Among the consequences is that a budding romance between Helen and the town's firefighter, George (Tom Selleck) is rekindled, but not before Helen works her way through a brief, passionate affair with Johnny, who is twenty years or so her junior. In one swift month Helen turns from a stable, if unfulfilled bookseller, to the bemused object of a triangular relationship. In the process she discovers a surprising secret about her mother, Lillian (Blythe Danner) as well, and uncovers a post card from an old shoebox which, if carefully read some years back, would have dramatically altered her life.

At best, "The Love Letter" could provide for a career- making opportunity for Tom Everett Scott, heretofore known to the public only for cutesy roles in movies like Tom Hanks's "That Thing You Do" and teen horror circuit adventures like "Dead Man on Campus." The story telling is for the most part linear and conventional with Tami Reiker's camera failing to exploit much quaintness is the town of Rockport. Nor does Ms. Reiker's camerawork paint a flattering portrait of Kate Capshaw, whose wan acting cannot make a case for an April-September affair with a college kid. In her small role Blythe Danner puts most of the remainder of the cast to shame by her mere presence, as veteran Tom Selleck appears so unenthusiastic in his pursuit of Capshaw's character that his affection for her is even less convincing than is hers for young Scott. Finally, Bill Buell's cartoonish performance as a keystone cop puts could put the lid on tourism to Rockport.

Copyright 1999 Harvey Karten

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