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If you are in the mood for a "they don't make movies like that anymore" movie, meaning soapy melodrama with enough glamorous glow to keep you from thinking too hard, then "The Last Letter From Your Lover" might do the trick. This one pulls out all the stops: amnesia, missed messages, cynics who are astounded by the purity of real love, lavish settings and fabulous costumes. And, of course, very pretty people who are enchanted by each other.
There are two different love stories here, based on the book by JoJo Moyes ("Me Before You"). In the present day, Ellie (Felicity Jones), a journalist who has no interest in romance, is assigned to write about an editor who has recently died. She has to get past a rather frosty and formal archivist named Rory (Nabhaan Rizwan) to get access to the editor's archive, and there she finds a swooningly romantic love letter, to someone only identified as "J," from someone only identified as "Boot."
We gradually learn the story of J (Shailene Woodley as Jennifer Stirling) in a flashback to the mid-1960s. She is recovering from amnesia following a car accident. "You call me Larry," her handsome, wealthy husband (Joe Alwyn) gently reminds her when she calls him Lawrence. Her best friend assures her that everything is fine and she has "a perfect life." But she senses something missing. "I don't know how I felt about my life," she admits.
We can tell that it's not just the amnesia that makes Jennifer feel lost. Her husband treats her like a beautiful ornament that he visits between business trips and asks her to keep the ladies company at dinner parties while the men talk about business and world affairs. A dashing foreign correspondent named Anthony O'Hare (Callum Turner) then arrives to interview Anthony while the Stirlings are at a luxurious beach resort in France. O'Hare and Jennifer are stuck in the resort town together as they wait for Stirling to return from another unexpected business trip.
And so, we have intertwined stories of two couples, going back and forth to as relationships develop. Ellie and Rory bond over the search for the letters and the search for what happened to J and Boot.
The repetition in the film shows the parallels between the two couples half a century apart, and also a lack of imagination as they follow the same cookie-cutter formula. Both start with some mild antagonism for no particular reason other than love stories that begin with conflict are more interesting. They're still not that interesting and the actors have little chemistry. All four have had unhappy experiences with relationships. So, they cannot admit they long to love and be loved, doubting that it might even be possible. Both stories feature scenes of a couple dancing so intimately in a club that it leads to a more private intimate encounter. The love letters are very romantic if a little generic. The lush settings and Woodley's fabulous Jackie Onassis-inspired couture fashions from costume designer Anna Robbins are gorgeous, so much so that they overshadow what the person wearing those clothes is actually saying and doing.
"The Last Letter From Your Lover" joins a small but memorable collection of films about people discovering the power of love via romantic letters, including "Possession," "Message in a Bottle," "The Love Letter," "Love Letters," "Letters to Juliet," and an assortment of Hallmark movies. It's understandable—love letters are hard to resist, and a chance to peek into a most intimate exchange, to imagine expressing ourselves exquisitely or to be the recipient of such exquisite expression. The most authentic emotion expressed in this film may be Ellie's wistfulness about a post-love letter world in which the best one might hope for is a text: "Hey, babe, if you want to change your life ..." followed by some hashtags and emojis.
Now playing on Netflix.
Felicity Jones as Ellie Haworth
Shailene Woodley as Jennifer Stirling
Callum Turner as Anthony O'Hare
Joe Alwyn as Laurence Stirling
Nabhaan Rizwan as Rory