People are obsessed with happily-ever-afters. Romances that leave you with a nice, fuzzy feeling in spite of taking you through a roller-coaster of the could-have-beens and should-have-beens are chartbusters on almost all famous streaming services. In fact, the new Netflix film, “The Last Letter From Your Lover” is so eager to please this set of ideal audiences that it never for once trudges away from its set path. The result is yet another manipulative, cheesy romance that takes away its visibly moving doomed romance for granted and instead gives us another by-the-numbers meet-cute instead.
Based on Jojo Moyes’s bestselling novel, the film is set in London. Following dual-timelines – one set in the present day and the other somewhere in 1965, the film’s main focus is on the central romance that brims between Jennifer Stirling (Shailene Woodley) – the wife of a wealthy industrialist and financial journalist Anthony O’Hare (Callum Turner). Assigned to cover a story about the industrialist’s many achievements, O’Hare’s intrigue, and Jennifer’s dissatisfaction with her marriage ignite a fire in this chance encounter. Initials spark and beautiful, hand-written correspondence aside, the 60s set love story is set for doom. The hurdles are far too many and in spite of the pair’s extremely intuitive choices, the union just doesn’t seem to be one that is set up for success.
Years later, Ellie Haworth (Felicity Jones) – an ambitious journalist stumbles onto a letter from the aforementioned correspondence. While covering a story, Ellie gets too involved with this fleeting romance that she gleefully enlists as ‘an illicit affair.’ Since Ellie is from the WhatsApp and texting world, this hand-written letter that spoke so profoundly about the longing the lover has for this lady really moves her. Fascinated and eager to learn more, she strikes a sort of friendship with the awkward archivist who helps her get more details about the lovers.
Directed by Augustine Frizzell (known for directing the fun Sundance coming of age film “Never Goin’ Back”), certain things work for The Last Letter from Your Lover. Firstly, the multiple female point-of-view matches with Frizzell’s own sensibilities. Pretty much like her directorial debut, she is able to strike a balance between her two central characters. The back and forth between the two timelines (aided with back and forths within the timeliness) doesn’t indulge the audience in some sort of messy plot structure.
To add to that, the part set in the 60s looks picturesque. A certain intrigue is also developed within these love stories by planting the idea of young people having trouble finding love. Rain also comes and goes into the narrative. While A Rainy Day in New York could mean many things, it is definitely a catalyst for telling stories about people trying to find a home in each other.
That said, I simply couldn’t look beyond how conventional the entire thing is. More so, there is not even a single instance where director Augustine Frizzell tries to leeway from the set parameters of doomed romances. The idea is to lure you into the stories of good-looking people, give you a chance of escapism and then snatch it away from you. Since there is also a modern-day setting, the idea of making it fun comes in as a necessity. However, even there, writer Nick Payne paints a vagrantly familiar story splurged with oodles of disinteresting British humor.
Let’s take Jennifer’s character for example. She is portrayed as a woman trapped in a marriage where she is grappling with the idea of desiring something beyond. The story only vaguely explores the kind of control her husband has over her. While this is not a misstep per se, exploring this side of the character would have made her more interesting. The romance that blooms between Jennifer and O’Hara also feels slightly fabricated because not much time is invested in what actually connects them. There are a few great sequences but they are few and far off in between.
Not much can be said about the other romance in The Last Letter From Your Lover. The juxtaposition of the old and new ways of communication could have very well served up some insightful musings on romance, but the film isn’t particularly interested in that either. While the director gives her film a rich visual style (particularly in the 60s segment), not much can be said about the world these characters inhabit. The one-dimensional characters and their conflicts and longing are all used as stimuli for manipulation.
Every single step and misstep in the narrative walks within the conventional beats. It doesn’t help that the actors are so unengaging in their respective roles. The thinly written modern-day romance doesn’t pave way for a relatable story. Moreover, it is only used to illicit that the old romance needs to come full-circle. Making its existence all the more unwanted.
In a way, The Last Letter From Your Lover feels like a pretty stale reworking of “The Notebook.” One that isn’t particularly good at it either. However, if you aren’t expecting this to be anything more than a lifetime movie that plays in the background as you eat your Friday dinner then this is for you.