'Last Letter from Your Lover's Shailene Woodley sends handwritten letters 'multiple times a week'

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USA TODAY 23 July, 2021 - 07:16am 30 views

‘The Last Letter From Your Lover’ Review: Shailene Woodley Has an Affair to Remember, Felicity Jones Gets One to Forget

Yahoo Entertainment 23 July, 2021 - 03:00am

Having previously made her name with the spiky, Sundance-stamped girls-gone-wild comedy “Never Goin’ Back,” director Augustine Frizzell doesn’t seem an obvious fit for any of the dewy, edgeless mini-movies that make up “The Last Letter From Your Lover”: Sure enough, she had no hand in the script, which playwright Nick Payne and author Esta Spalding have drawn with little great inspiration from the 2008 bestseller by Jojo Moyes, the same wildly popular romance novelist who wrote “Me Before You.”

Yet Frizzell tackles the period portion of the saga with some directorial verve, committing to its saturated, hyper-styled romanticism and shameless storytelling contrivance to a degree that is all but irresistible — and unfortunately leaves the remainder of the film feeling anonymous and less involving by comparison. Even at its most generic, however, this letter from an unlikely woman fills a gaping slot in the summer schedule for grown-up, female-oriented entertainment, and should find keen recipients upon its release on Netflix in the U.S., and in theaters across the pond.

The film opens with an on-screen quote from Ernest Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms,” scrawled across the screen like an original love note: “Why, darling, I don’t live at all when I’m not with you.” It’s a somewhat misleading choice of literary flourish, and not just because the classic novel that unites its star-crossed couple in fact turns out to be Evelyn Waugh’s “Scoop.” Suffice it to say that “Last Letter” is an awfully long way from the elemental terseness of Hemingway even at his most romantic. The love letters that bounce the film’s narrative across the decades are floridly impassioned missives, full of swollen-hearted feeling and do-or-die pleas — the kind, the film unsubtly and wistfully observes, that feel desirably quaint in the age of instant messaging and eggplant emoji.

Their author is Anthony (Turner), a scrappy London financial journalist besotted with Jennifer (Woodley), the cosseted American trophy wife of wealthy, wooden-hearted business magnate Larry (Joe Alwyn), whom he meets in the summer of 1965 on a French Riviera trip of sunlit village rambles and glittering yacht rides. (The film may characterize Larry as a villainous capitalist, but drinks in the couple’s lifestyle with gilded pleasure.) The attraction is mutual, and intense: In roles that might have been played by Burton and Taylor at the time of the film’s setting, Turner and Woodley have something like genuine, lip-biting chemistry, making us root for their union even as the script labors to keep them apart, down to the quasi-camp melodramatic trope of selective amnesia, Hollywood style. Turner, who drew the short straw among the male stars of last year’s “Emma.,” emerges here as a suitably swoonsome but appealingly wiry romantic lead.

In the present day, meanwhile, Jones plays Ellie, a single, romantically wounded journalist at a London paper whose newsroom even Nancy Meyers might call out for being implausibly folksy. Apparently on the kind of dream contract where she gets a week to write a single obituary, she stumbles upon Anthony’s fiery, enigmatically initialed letters in the course of her research and is immediately sidetracked, determined to uncover the whos, whys and whens of this seemingly unresolved affair. Assisting her in this matter is sweet, shy archive manager Rory (an endearing Nabhaan Rizwan), whose attraction to the strangely glassy, self-oriented Ellie is script-determined from their first stiff meet-cute, but never supplemented by a palpable rapport between the characters or the actors playing them.

Frizzell, one senses, doesn’t much care: She’s left her heart in 1965, as she, DP George Steel (“The Aeronauts”) and costume designer Anna Robbins (“Downton Abbey”) set about making the film’s most old-fashioned romance as classically gorgeous as possible, all sensually blazing flesh tones and neon-in-rainfall reflections and lighting so velvet-soft the frame frequently feels on the verge of dissolving entirely. The relationship between Jennifer and Anthony may be thinly conceived, but Frizzell has the gift of getting her audience to invest in sheer beauty alone: Stray frames here recall Vincente Minnelli or Wong Kar-wai, before settling back into an overall aesthetic of less distinctive but nonetheless pleasing plushness. Would that the rest of “The Last Letter From Your Lover” made quite such a lavish, concerted effort to seduce: One leaves the film thinking they don’t make ’em like they used to, even when they’re making ’em all at once.

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'The Last Letter From Your Lover' director explains why Shailene Woodley has a less-than-perfect French accent in the film

Insider 23 July, 2021 - 12:00am

Elegant and well-educated, she rattles off French numerous times while communicating with locals. 

"Aucun problème," she tells the buttoned-up waiter after he delivers news that her snobby husband Laurence Stirling (Joe Alwyn) fled lunch without so much as a goodbye. 

And after a Hotel Mar i Vent staff member phones the room where foreign correspondent Anthony O'Hare (Callum Turner) is staying, she mutters a quiet "merci" before ascending to his quarters.

While Woodley's French is certainly clean and easy to understand, any Francophone is sure to detect a slight American accent in her words. It's to be expected considering the "Big Little Lies" star doesn't actually speak the language. 

In a recent phone call with Insider ahead of the Netflix film's July 23 premiere, director Augustine Frizzell said she had multiple behind-the-scenes conversations about just how proficient Jennifer, a young woman that grew up in the US before getting married and moving to London, should be in French.

On a more logistical level, she was trying to gauge how much time and energy Woodley was going to have to dedicate to nailing the accent. 

Fortunately for the lead actress, who also served as an executive producer on the adaptation of Jojo Moyes' novel, Frizzell decided that Jennifer doesn't necessarily have to be a native speaker after considering the protagonist's backstory.

"I don't know that she's had enough time. She grew up in the US and she's done a bit of traveling, so she just has enough to get by. That's how we went at it," Frizzell told Insider, continuing, "She doesn't have to perfect the accent. She doesn't have to be fluent, but she knows enough to get by."

As for Woodley, the actress was "great at just memorizing" her translated lines, Frizzell said.

As an acknowledgment of the actress' lack of fluency, Frizzell made sure there were flirtatious, self-deprecating quips about her and O'Hare's attempts at mastering the romance language in their early letters to each other. 

After the British journalist promises to keep Jennifer "laughing with my terrible schoolboy French," she suggests that they "spend a few hours commiserating over our mutual inadequacies with the local language."

Prior to her time shooting "The Last Letter From Your Lover" in 2019, the California native had a decent exposure to the French language.

As a teenager, her family hosted two foreign exchange students from France. However, she said during a promotional interview for "Insurgent" in 2015 that the visitors only taught her how to say "really nasty, sexual things."

Woodley actually moved to France at one point, residing in Bordeaux and then Paris for a total of two years before eventually returning stateside.

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The Last Letter From Your Lover is a forgettable Netflix romance

The A.V. Club 22 July, 2021 - 06:00pm

English journalist Jojo Moyes is one such writer regularly denigrated with the “chick lit” label. Her romance novels—most centered on young white people with perfect faces, bound together by breathy sexual desire and soapy tragic twists—don’t reinvent the love-story wheel. But though they’re not critically acclaimed, these page-turners are very popular. Me Before You, for example, sold millions of copies, before going on to inspire a hit box-office adaptation starring Emilia Clarke and Sam Claflin. That’s the kind of success The Last Letter From Your Lover is hoping to replicate. Directed by Augustine Frizzell, best known for her 2018 indie stoner comedy Never Goin’ Back, the film is based on Moyes’ 2008 novel of the same name, which—unlike some of her other work—didn’t trouble The New York Times bestseller list. What the adaptation has going for it is two charismatic young stars, Felicity Jones and Shailene Woodley, pitching in to tell an enjoyable but extremely conventional story.

Shailene Woodley, Felicity Jones, Callum Turner, Nabhaan Rizwan

The film covers two timelines that eventually intersect. Jones plays Ellie Haworth, a journalist in London recovering from a messy break up who uncovers a series of secret love letters from the ’60s with the help of handsome colleague Rory (Nabhaan Rizwan). Woodley is letter writer Jennifer Stirling, an extraordinarily glamorous housewife, trapped in a loveless marriage, who develops feelings for the journalist assigned to write about her wealthy industrialist husband. Lover cuts between the two women, with Jennifer falling in love and Ellie opening herself up to the possibility.

We can only speculate as to what drew Woodley to this role, but one couldn’t begrudge her doing it simply for the incredible selection of hats she gets to wear (particularly after the internet’s reaction to those bangs in Big Little Lies). Jennifer’s wardrobe is a visual feast: bejeweled gowns, colorful tailored coats, perfectly coordinated accessories that compete with the loveliest stretches of Corsican coastline for our attention. Frizzell leans into this glamorous fantasy, with scenes of Woodley reclining on yachts resplendent in beaded lemon cocktail dresses and waking up from nights of passion with perfectly fanned false eyelashes.

Jones and Woodley do their best, forging reasonable chemistry with their unremarkable love interests (though inanimate objects would struggle to not spark with the latter, given how gorgeously done up she is here). Unfortunately, the romantic clichés in The Last Letter From Your Lover pile up unnervingly fast. Cars in the rain. Lusty glances across dinner tables. Amnesia. Declarations of love under balconies. Characters conveniently running into one another. If five more minutes were added to the film’s runtime, they would almost surely be devoted to someone racing to an airport gate or leaping into a lover’s arms in front of the Eiffel Tower.

The whole production is undeniably pleasant but also a little lazy, with dialogue that sags under heavy exposition. The impression is of a film unwilling to carve out its own identity or subvert any expectations, because it’s operating under the assumption that its target audience will be satisfied by well-worn conventions. Audiences should feel absolutely no shame in reaching for a little sweeping summer romance, or enjoying the cozy predictability of beautiful people falling into one another’s embrace. But they deserve a lovelorn cinematic attempt with boldness that doesn’t begin and end with hats.

Review: Netflix romance 'The Last Letter From Your Lover' gets a stamp of semi-approval

Yahoo News 22 July, 2021 - 10:00am

It’s in the immediate aftermath of that accident that we meet Jennifer Stirling (Shailene Woodley), a 1960s socialite who returns to her handsomely oppressive London home with a scar on her cheek and no recollection of recent events. Her husband, Larry (a frosty Joe Alwyn), clearly wants to keep things that way. But when Jennifer begins finding letters tucked in her old hiding spots, addressed to her by an unknown but passionate lover, some of her memories are triggered and her curiosity is awakened. Ours too, as the movie whisks us to a series of luscious extended flashbacks set in the South of France, where Jennifer and Larry are shown first crossing paths with a dashingly ill-mannered journalist, Anthony O’Hare (Callum Turner).

With her inattentive husband frequently called away on business (he’s a stranger to her even before the amnesia hits), Jennifer spends a lot of this summer holiday with Anthony on leisurely walks, sailing trips and top-down drives along the Riviera coast. The clothes and scenery are gorgeous and so are they, and it’s only a matter of time before their respective miseries — he’s divorced and has a son he never sees, she’s trapped in a loveless marriage — drive them into each other’s arms. Amid longing looks, missed connections and atmospheric lashings of rain, the stage would appear to be set for a satisfyingly anguished drama of love and betrayal, the kind that the movies, to their detriment and the audience’s, rarely seems to invest in anymore.

But for all their respectful if somewhat timid nods to the Hollywood romances of yesteryear, the director Augustine Frizzell and the screenwriters Nick Payne and Esta Spalding, following the busy contours of Moyes’ novel, have set themselves a trickier challenge. Like the Nicholas Sparks adaptation “The Notebook,” another rain-soaked love story set in seesawing motion by an intimate collection of writings, “The Last Letter From Your Lover” is framed as a story of Then vs. Now.

Its forgotten romance is shipped to us courtesy of a present-day London journalist, Ellie (Felicity Jones), who stumbles on some of Jennifer’s old love letters during research. Herself an emotional wreck after having recently ended a long relationship, Ellie sees in this private correspondence a swoon-worthy throwback to a time when love was both simpler and more complicated.

Back then, the possibility of real, lasting human connection may have been hampered by antiquated social mores, but it was also mercifully free of the fickle whims and soulless technologies that govern the modern dating scene. Rather less objectionable than 2016’s ableist romantic fantasy “Me Before You,” another Moyes adaptation, “The Last Letter From Your Lover” is at least partly about the frustrations of love in any era, and via any channels of communication. (It could well have been titled “That Unanswered Text From Your One-Night Stand.”)

Naturally, Ellie gets another chance at love, this time with Rory (Nabhaan Rizwan), a newspaper archivist whose by-the-book rigidity, which gradually gives way to his growing affection for Ellie, is one of the movie’s significant pleasures. As they chase the Jennifer-Anthony paper trail, Ellie becomes convinced they’ve stumbled on a romance for the ages — and the makings of a potentially great story.

You could say something similar about “The Last Letter From Your Lover,” even if that story never fully comes into focus. You catch glimpses of it in between the busy, mechanical lurchings of the plot, in the swirling movement of a camera pan and the ardent commitment of the actors. If Woodley initially seems miscast in Jennifer’s stuffy English milieu (it’s later explained that she originally hails from New York), she’s good enough to make that incongruity feel like the point; her skill as an actor lies in her utter guilelessness, the transparency of her desires and longings. Turner’s Anthony, by contrast, hides his feelings beneath a sardonic veneer that sometimes cracks, never more forcefully than when he begs Jennifer to leave her life of joyless privilege and run away with him.

There are real surges of feeling in those moments of reckoning (aided by key performances from Diana Kent and Ben Cross), and also in the rom-com sparks that fly between Ellie and Rory, who lighten the melodrama with their fizzy, slightly neurotic millennial energy. Frizzell has a nice feel for actorly chemistry, as she showed in her directing debut, “Never Goin’ Back,” a Texas stoner raunchfest about two teenage girls and their gleefully vulgar misadventures. The heroines of “The Last Letter From Your Lover” may seem positively repressed by comparison, insofar as neither of them defecates in a bucket or projectile-vomits in response to someone defecating in a bucket (and more’s the pity, really). But they’re appealing enough to keep you watching, and reading, in a double-decker romance that sighs, squeals and fitfully delivers.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

Enough, for now, to keep the flagging genre alive

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