The young woman is Sophie (Amanda Seyfried), a fact-checker for The New Yorker who aspires to be a writer. She has a cute fiancé named Victor (Gael García Bernal) who is a chef, and is about to open an Italian restaurant in Manhattan. Sophie and Victor go to Verona for a pre-wedding honeymoon, where he plans to eat, drink and meet food suppliers. Sophie mopes a bit because her fiancé would rather look at a dark, dank wine cellar than explore scenic Verona.
But soft! What light through yonder window breaks? Oh, it's golden, sun-dappled Tuscany! How bad could it be? It's warm, and there's gorgeous Italian food everywhere, and it's beautiful and if you don't want to live there ten minutes into the movie, you're just not paying attention.
Sophie's dolce vita is about to get even sweeter. While wandering Verona alone (Victor is off in search of truffles or some such), she comes upon the House of Juliet - yes, that Juliet, whose famous balcony inspires lovelorn women to pin notes to the walls of her house: notes of sadness and misery and brokenheartedness. Ever the fact-finding detective, Sophie soon discovers the Secretaries of Juliet, a group of plucky, spunky women who answer those letters. She also discovers a 50-year-old letter tucked behind a stone in Juliet's wall. She decides to answer that letter, written long ago by a young British exchange student named Claire.
Once a sad Juliet who ditched a young Italian lover named Lorenzo Bartolini (her family did not approve), Claire (Vanessa Redgrave) is now a widowed grandmother who travels to Verona, inspired by Sophie's epistolary efforts. Claire wants to find her long-lost Lorenzo. She brings along her stick-in-the-mud grandson Charlie (Christopher Egan, a cross between Heath Ledger and Ryan Phillippe), who very much disapproves of his grandmother's silly quest. He also very much disapproves of Sophie and her meddling ways, and takes an instant dislike to her. Sophie, naturally, instantly dislikes him too. It must be love.
Fate, of course, will see to it that Claire, Charlie and Sophie all wander together through oh-so-scenic golden Tuscany in search of Lorenzo. They find many elderly Lorenzos, all of them more than willing to be The One. Lovely, radiant Claire brings out the romantic (and sometimes the horndog) in the gentlemen of Verona.
Movies do not ordinarily appreciate old love; it tends to be a source of discomfort, comedy and ridicule. Indeed, the kind of romance that movies specialize in is young love - desperate, aching, passionate Romeo-and-Juliet-style love - not patient, enduring, mature romance. While Letters to Juliet finds comedy in the accumulation of Lorenzos who would be more than happy to romance Claire, it doesn't laugh at the notion, the very possibility, that people past retirement age might have emotional lives and experience love.
It doesn't especially make a mockery of young love, either, although Sophie and Charlie are stuck in one of those love/hate relationships that can only happen in the movies (or Shakespeare's comedies) because the individuals involved are so irresistibly attractive. Ordinary mortals would shrug and walk away, unless forced by destiny (or the whims of a screenwriter) to soldier on, exchanging barbs and halfhearted insults while inexorably falling in love.
Sophie's no shrew in need of taming, just adorable and ever-so-romantic; and it turns out that Charlie isn't so bad and stuck-up after all, and even the neglectful fiancé Victor is pretty charming and passionate. How bad can a movie be when both the cads are really decent fellows?
Sophie's romantic complications smack of cinematic artifice - of the kind of momentary roadblocks that occur along the well-worn, AAA-approved path from Can't-Be-Lovetown to Splitsville to True-Loveburg. Meanwhile, Claire's unlikely romance turns out to be not altogether implausible, given a certain understanding of the way that unlikely events and coincidences actually do tend to occur in life, just to keep us on our toes. Letters to Juliet is warm and pretty and quite pleasant: a modest, charming exercise in wish fulfillment that gets the job done and leaves you hungry for a big plate of pasta.