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The Love Letter

Starring Kate Capshaw and Tom Selleck
Screenplay by Maria Maggenti
Based on the novel by Cathleen Schine
Directed by Peter Ho-Sun Chan

IN SHORT: A couple of good moments between name brand stars do not a good movie make. [Rated [PG-13], 89 minutes]

By the time you reach the end of the movie, the love letter of the title has been ripped to pieces, fished out of the garbage and carefully taped back together. Which is a pretty good analogy for this sloppily scripted and horribly directed drek. As usual, Cranky makes no reference to the Source Material, other than to note that The Love Letter movie is another addition to our "must've been a great book 'cuz it made a lousy movie" list.

Loblolly by the Sea is an emotional wasteland of a town in which all the fortysomethings are somewhere in the process of divorce, with the exception of still single Janet (Ellen DeGeneres), who sluts around. Center to this story is bookstore owner Helen (Kate Capshaw), described as an "emotional celibate" by one of her employees. Helen is so wrapped up in her loneliness that when her young daughter disappears from the script, after about 5 minutes or so and a telephone message from her ex, she never notices. (At a different screening, the following day, all of us "critics" spent much time trying to figure this one out. The consensus is that the kid was shipped off to school, except that the story takes place in the summertime. Given the fact that most of us have brains the size of peas, pooling our highly developed observational resources should have come up with something. That "something" was the consensus that this script sucked. More later...)

One day Helen finds, stuffed between the cushions of an old couch in her shoppe, a typed love letter. It isn't addressed to her (therefore it must be to her, an assumption that will be made by every character who sees the letter) and it fills the void in her heart with hope. In one of the few film bits that work, Helen hears the words of the letter coming out of the mouths of every man she sees, while she tries to figure out who the letter is from. We're talking geeks, garbage men, retirees sitting in the sun and so on. If the story had kept to that quiet kind of comedy, it might have worked. But it stumbles away into a conflicting set of relationships, one with half her age college-man Johnny (Tom Everett Scott), the other with long time friend, and admirer from afar George (Tom Selleck), the local fireman.

Johnny, who has found the letter in Helen's kitchen (she's making him dinner) assumes it's from her. This leads to a flirtation (he quotes from the letter, she assumes etcetera), and culminates in a full fledged affair which is so clumsily developed by director Peter Ho-Sun Chan that Cranky sat in his chair with his jaw dropping down, trying to piece together why the visual continuity didn't match up with what would pass for real time. Tom Selleck, who is the right dude for Helen (and always available at the wrong time) looks so bored with his character that said character's awkwardness in expressing his true feelings doesn't carry any weight. Of course, that's film student talk. You'll all be gawking at the totally dweeby way that Selleck's hair is cut.

In this small town, the letter keeps finding its way into strange hands. Problem is, how it does so cannot be logically followed. The one logical link (the letter gets mixed up with manuals for smoke detectors that fireman George is delivering to the bookstore. Janet thinks it's for her...) leads to a breakdown in a best friendship (finally! a subplot!) but the letter then miraculously moves to Helen's handbag, to be found and copied by a nosy cop.

Maria Maggenti's script works so hard to establish tons of colorful, lonely, characters in this tiny town, that you'll need a scorecard to follow 'em all. The one character who seems to have no place in this story at all, an old cigarette smoker named Miss Scattergoods (Geraldine McEwan) is key to unlocking the origin of the letter. The unfortunate fact is that Scattergoods, as are the characters of Helen's mother (Blythe Danner, who takes a virtually nonexistent part and makes it shine) and grandmother (Gloria Stuart) are dispensable. You don't need to know the origin of the letter; that background is a total distraction from the emotional menage a trois that should be the focus of the story. I can't clue you in to the "secret" but the honest truth is, the characters involved are so underdeveloped that the plot isn't necessary.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Love Letter, he would have paid...


A failure on almost every level, save the performances of Danner and DeGeneres.

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