Written by: Hannah Tran | July 22nd, 2021
The Last Letter from Your Lover (Augustine Frizzell, 2021) 2 out of 4 stars.
Augustine Frizzell’s directorial debut, Never Goin’ Back, was an irreverent stoner comedy about two high-school-dropout waitresses which, though imperfect, felt fun and fresh. As such, she seems an odd match for a romantic drama whose story is partially divided into a 1960s period piece. And it does, in fact, feel odd. Perhaps it is because her latest film was not actually written by her, and is ultimately a shallow, formulaic love story with a frustratingly confused tone. Based on Jojo Moyes’s eponymous 2008 novel about a journalist who discovers the letters from a passionate affair and resolves to discover how that love story ended, The Last Letter from Your Lover is an uninspired, multigenerational romance that will inevitably be forgotten by even the deepest romantics.
Split between the lives of two women, a modern-day journalist with commitment issues and a 1960s housewife who’s suffering from amnesia after a horrific car accident, the plot itself is perfectly compelling. But with this twin perspective, the characters are never given enough personality or screen time to make them truly engaging. Their flaws, desires and overarching arcs feel overly predictable and detached. A surprisingly lackluster performance by Shailene Woodley (The Mauritanian), as the housewife, combined with a perfectly fine, if forgettable, performance by Felicity Jones (The Aeronauts), as the journalist, doesn’t help.
Moreover, this division between the two makes it difficult to really determine the film’s mood. Jones’s story assumes a more romantic-comedy type aura, whereas Woodley’s takes on a more tragic one. Both fail to be either funny or heartbreaking enough to succeed in either of these genres, and so the film mostly ends up in a disappointing middle ground. That doesn’t mean there are no moments that work, however; as the film delves into its final twenty minutes or so, it becomes more moving and complex, but none of the swelling music or large romantic gestures ever feel wholly earned.
The other major tonal issue comes in the movie’s near-total lack of suspense and urgency. While it may be an enthralling mystery to the journalist at the center, the organization of the storylines, and the progression of them as a whole, lacks a necessary sense of curiosity and, with this, its level of stakes feels mostly stagnant. In a story like this, the costumes and set designs may be fun to look at, but they shouldn’t be the most captivating element on screen. While The Last Letter From Your Lover weaves, on its surface, an intriguing tale, the nitty-gritty of that narrative fails to romance its viewer with any emotional texture or memorable characters.