Courtesy Photo
*** stars 95 minutes | Rated: PG-13
Opened: Friday, May 21, 1999
Directed by Peter Ho-Sun Chan

Kate Capshaw, Ellen DeGeneres, Tom Everett Scott, Tom Selleck, Blythe Danner, Ceraldine McEwan & Julianne Nicholson


Great rainy day romance for grown-ups in the style of classic Hollywood comedy, but with modern sensibilities. Not one to rent for the whole family (kids might be bored), but anyone exerpeinced in the complications of love will enjoy it immensely.

   VIDEO RELEASE: 11/23/99

Ellen DeGeneres:
"EDtv" (1999)
"Goodbye Lover" (1999)

Tom Everett Scott:
"One True Thing" (1998)
"An American Werewolf in Paris" (1997)
"That Thing You Do!" (1996)

Tom Selleck:
"In & Out" (1997)

Julianne Nicholson:
"One True Thing" (1998)

Gloria Stewart:
"Titanic" (1997)

Mysterious 'Love Letter' spawns romantic misunderstandings in fun, old-fashioned comedy

By Rob Blackwelder

"The Love Letter," a snappy comedy about the heart getting ahead of the mind, has the delightful air of a classic Hollywood romance. It could have been made in the 1930s or '40s with the likes Katherine Hepburn, Claudette Colbert, Jimmy Stewart, Clark Gable, Cary Grant, Ginger Rogers and/or Myrna Loy.

In the '50s or early '60s it might have starred Rock Hudson, Doris Day, Albert Finney, Audrey Hepburn and/or Jack Lemmon.

In this case, however, it stars Kate Capshaw, Tom Selleck, Tom Everett Scott and Ellen DeGeneres -- who may not have the same kind of marquee power and built-in adoration, but a movie this enjoyable could get them there if it can find an audience, opening this week opposite George Lucas' 800-pound gorilla.

The setup is simple -- an unsigned love letter, poetic in a corny way that makes hearts and imaginations race, chances its way through a sleepy, picturesque, New England seaside community, begetting Byronic assumptions (everyone thinks it's for them) and inspiring unlikely affairs.

It first lands in the lap of Capshaw, a scatterbrained, lovelorn book shop owner who seems cursed by bad romantic timing. She thinks the letter is from a 20-year-old, banter-weight Adonis working in her quaint, over-staffed (four employees, zero customers) store.

Scott is said strapping young stud, home for the summer from college, who assumes the letter is from Capshaw.

Despite the age gap, he thinks she's pretty hot stuff (he's right -- she's more beautiful now, in her 40s and sans makeup, than she ever was back in her "Temple of Doom" days), and they tumble capriciously into bed together.

Selleck plays a hunky Jimmy Stewart type, a tender-hearted nice guy with an irresistible smile (essentially a blue-collar version of his role on "Friends" a couple years back). He's a local fireman going through an ugly divorce and he also thinks the letter is from Capshaw, who he's been holding a candle for since high school.

Ellen DeGeneres, who continues to prove herself a better actor than anyone suspected, is the book shop's randy, sardonic manager who gets all hot and bothered thinking the letter is from Selleck.

The cast also includes Geraldine McEwan as Miss Scattergoods, the town eccentric with a sexual secret, Blythe Danner and Gloria Stewart as Capshaw's mother and grandmother, and the adorably freckled Julianne Nicholson as yet another bookshop employee, an insecure, virgin feminist with an unrequited crush on the tan and surprisingly sexy Scott.

Directed by Hong Kong transplant Peter Ho-Sun Chan ("Comrades: Almost a Love Story"), "The Love Letter" touches bittersweetly on passion, confusion, jealousy, insecurity, sex, unrequited love and misguided emotion without ever losing its laughs.

It's reminiscent in mood, setting and slightly unconventional romantic air to "Roxanne," the comedic 1987 "Cyrano De Bergerac" adaptation that turned Steve Martin into a believable romantic lead. But "The Love Letter" has a maturity that film lacked, thanks to 1) a sincere and witty script by Maria Maggenti ("The Incredibly True Adventures of Two Girls In Love"), who adapted Cathleen Schine's novel of the same name, and 2) its cast of second-tier players who are all more talented than anyone has given them credit for up to now.

The picture does, eventually, identify the author and intended recipient of the letter in a bit of a strangely scripted twist, but unlike traditional romantic comedies it doesn't end happily ever after -- it just ends happily.

This refusal to conform to formula and the unexpected strength of the wonderful ensemble cast make "The Love Letter" my favorite romantic comedy so far this year.

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