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Case Number 00203

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The Love Letter

DreamWorks // 1999 // 88 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Margo Reasner (Retired) // December 8th, 1999

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All Rise...

The Charge

No one knows who sent it. No one knows who it's for. But everyone's getting the same message.

Opening Statement

A sleepy little seaside town complete with quirky inhabitants is the setting for The Love Letter. This slow-paced comedy would make for a diverting afternoon if you were trapped on an airplane.

The Evidence

Loblolly By The Sea is a small New England coastal town with an incredibly small, quirky population. As luck would have it, a large percentage of them work at the local bookstore owned by Helen MacFarquhar (Kate Capshaw—Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Just Cause, How To Make An American Quilt) and managed by Janet Hall (Ellen DeGeneres—EDtv, Ellen's Energy Adventure) with Johnny (Tom Everett Scott—An American Werewolf in Paris, That Thing You Do!, One True Thing) and Jennifer (Julianne Nicholson—Long Time Since, One True Thing, Curtain Call) as the employees.

One day while Helen is reading the mail, she discovers a piece of paper between the couch cushions. She reads it and sees that it is a love letter with no indication of who it is meant for and no identification of who wrote it. She assumes that it must have come from the big pile of mail that she is reading and that it is meant for her. She begins to look at the men that she sees regularly a little differently while wondering who sent her the letter. Her two prime suspects turn out to be 20-year-old Johnny who works for her and the local fireman, George Mathias (Tom Selleck—In and Out, Three Men and a Baby, Quigley Down Under), who she almost had a relationship with many years previous. George comes into the bookstore often, as he is in the middle of divorcing his wife and is buying self-help divorce books, as well as showing up to help the bookstore get rid of a bee infestation. The letter itself keeps turning up and is found by several of the characters lying around, and each in turn wonders if it is for them and who might have wanted to give it to them. Woven into the story are Blythe Danner (Mad City, The Prince of Tides, The Great Santini) as Helen's mother and Gloria Stuart (the older Rose from Titanic) as Helen's grandmother, with Geraldine McEwan (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves) as the quintessentially quirky, bicycle-riding Mrs. Scattergoods.

As you might expect, the relationships that men and women have with each other is the subject matter of this film. On one side Helen has an attraction that exists but hasn't been explored with Johnny, who is several years younger than her. On the other side, Helen had a potential relationship with George that she didn't pay very much attention to when she was younger. These two stories move forward in parallel, with the other characters having their lives woven into either of the two main themes.

The picture is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. It's a very nice transfer and the scenes of boats in the harbor through the pane-glass windows were really quite beautiful and help set the tone for the film. The sound is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, but the film really is mostly dialogue driven with upbeat violin music to set the tone. Aside from the occasional seagull in the background, my sound system didn't get much of a workout. The extras include a theatrical trailer, deleted scenes, cast and crew bios, and production notes. The menu I noticed seem to be a cross between a '60s comedy style with The Prince of Egypt style sideways panning movement when you went from one selection to another. Nicely done.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

Through the music and the subject matter, this film tries very hard to be a light-hearted comedy, but it just seems to end up falling flat. Although I found myself smiling every now and again, there was a hint of sadness surrounding the characters and we are asked to work too hard to enjoy a little comedy. The characters all had a haggard look to them—as though you can't live next to the ocean without looking like you've lived a hard life. Everyone looked old and tired all the time—even Tom Selleck didn't have his usual sparkle and charisma. Ellen DeGeneres was fresh and interesting, but you could have totally removed her character and the story wouldn't have changed at all. And the stories, while understandable, never really give a sense of where things were going to end. When we watch a drama we can accept a little ambiguity, but usually an audience wants things a little more cut and dried when a comedy is over. We don't expect to go home and give deep thought to what happened after watching a film like this. More distressing yet was the fact that a lot of what was missing in the film was found in the deleted scenes. There you see Selleck's eyes sparkle and find some more understanding and likeability for the characters.

Closing Statement

If you're standing at the rental counter and what you went in for is checked out, then this wouldn't be a bad choice to take home.

The Verdict

Two lashes with a wet noodle to whoever decided to cut the deleted scenes out of this movie. The people who designed the menus get to do the honors…

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Scales of Justice

Video: 97
Audio: 75
Extras: 65
Acting: 60
Story: 50
Judgment: 69

Perp Profile

Studio: DreamWorks
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• English
Running Time: 88 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
• Comedy
• Romance
• Romantic Comedies

Distinguishing Marks

• Theatrical Trailer
• Deleted Scenes
• Cast and Crew Bios
• Production Notes


• IMDb
• Official Site

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Review content copyright © 1999 Margo Reasner; Site design and review layout copyright © 2016 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.