Ellie (Felicity Jones) gets an assignment to do a long story about one of the longest serving female editors of her London based newspaper. Her research gets her to inadvertently discover a letter that isn’t for that editor. Instead, it’s for a Jennifer Stirling (Shailene Woodley), an American housewife of a young British magnate (Joe Alwyn). She becomes amnesiac after a car accident. But she discovers that same letter who might not have come from her husband. This makes her want to dig for more letters and for a different version of herself. Ellie and Jennifer, then, become symbols of womanhood of their respective times.
Ellie is very much a woman of the 2010s, longing for the days when guys wrote love letters instead of texts with aubergine emojis. Jennifer, on the other hand, was young decades before Ellie, during the 1960s. Back then, a woman of her class had access to vacations on the French Riviera. There’s slow cuts between benches and parasols, visual cues of a style and time. Jennifer at first doesn’t like Anthony O’Hare’s (Callum Turner) anti-colonialist politics. But she eventually invites herself to his hotel room. Aretha Franklin plays on the background. Aretha Franklin didn’t write music only for white people to kiss to.
Eventually Anthony and Jennifer kiss everywhere, at the backrooms of Black clubs where their racist white friends wouldn’t go, at parks, in his home. Anyway, The Last Letter To Your Lover does its bets to work within genre expectations. From reputation, Augustine Frizzell had some success with her coming of age film Never Goin’ Back. She returns with this film, directing Nick Payne and Esta Spalding’s adaptation of a Jojo Moyes novel. One that doesn’t have ableism this time around, thankfully. All of this hinges on casting, with Jones’ cutesy air contrasting Woodley’s mysterious sexuality. Jones and Woodley are both perfect in their roles, but they can only do so much next to debatable love interests.
That love interest is Turner (I say yay, my roommate says nay, calling him a boring version of Barry Keoghan). Ellie’s meet cute, Rory (Nabhaan Riszan), is more convincing, but the film rushes the latter storyline. Last is also about how both generations are basically playing house as adults, but there’s something about sincerity, within the romantic genre or otherwise, that can give way to unintentional comedy. One of those comedy sources come from Mr. Stirling. Alwyn is not playing a villain for the first time. But the more the film progresses, the more it makes him look like Vince Adultman with each jacket looking cartoonishly too big on him.
Stirling’s jackets are so big that it’s distracting from his evil intent to keep Jennifer like a caged bird. The same costume choices apply to Ellie, who starts wearing balloon blouses as if she’s a boomer. But Last has bigger flaws than its aesthetic choices. Ellie uses Jennifer’s thwarted love story to write her own. She submits an article about this meta love story with the purpliest prose to her boss who commends her for it. I speak from one hack writer to another, from someone with an icy heart to someone monetizing hearts. Please write better stories, or ones that won’t attract easy marks.
The Last Letter To Your Lover streams on Netflix tomorrow. Watch it if you dare.