The Love Letter
directed by Peter Chan
(DreamWorks, 1999)

OK, so Kate Capshaw is too old to play Blythe Danner's daughter. And maybe the plot has a few loose ends. And there are a few pat characterizations. Somehow, The Love Letter still manages to be a charming, light, bubblegum delight.

Based on Cathleen Schine's book of the same name, the film is set in the fictional New England town Loblolly-by-the-Sea, where the streets look like postcard shots and the natives are affably eccentric. Kate Capshaw plays a divorced bookstore owner, Helen, whose MIA lovelife is rescued when she finds a passionate love letter (which she assumes was written for her), and sets out to find its author. In the film's funniest scene, she imagines everyone in town -- firemen, senior citizens, her female bookstore manager -- reciting the letter's lovesick declarations with varying levels of abandon. Through a misunderstanding, however, she mistakenly decides that the author is one of her young employees -- a college student, Johnny (played by Tom Everett Scott) about 25 years her junior.

The plot thickens as Johnny and Helen's wisecracking best friend, Janet (played delightfully by Ellen DeGeneres) each find the letter by chance, and assume that it was written for her. Soon, it seems the pulse of the entire town quickens with desire, inspired by the letter's ardent words of love.

In fact, it could be argued that the letter, not Helen, is this movie's romantic lead. The sheer power of a beautifully (or, let's face it, even not-so-elegantly) written love letter cannot be overestimated, and those romantics among us who love words will likely luxuriate in the unabashed, untainted romance of the movie's famed billet-doux.

But who is the letter's true author? And for whom was it written? And what about the town's fire chief (Tom Selleck), who has never gotten over Helen? And how will Helen handle a romance with a lad less than half her age?

These are not deep philosophical questions. They don't inspire deep philosophical answers. So, if you're looking for Citizen Kane-like complexity, cinematography and characterization, you'd better look elsewhere. One gets the feeling that in another director's hands, this film could have been much better. In spite of Blythe Danner's admirable, predictably sterling acting, we're not talking Academy Awards for this baby.

But if you'd enjoy a fable-esque, life-affirming romantic comedy with well-written dialogue and a sweetly passionate outlook, this might be the film for you. Love Letters is a simple, romantic diversion that's more of a beach novel than a classic. But, a sweet premise, a quaint backdrop and a very engaging performance by Ellen DeGeneres make this movie a pleasant little diversion, indeed.

[ by MaryAlice Bitts ]

Buy it from