Urban Cinefile  
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Tuesday July 28, 2020 


In the quiet New England town of Loblolly By The Sea nothing very dramatic happens until an unsigned love letter mysteriously appears. First to read the passionate and sensual epistle is bookshop owner and single mother Helen (Kate Capshaw). More concerned with raising her young daughter than finding romance again, Helen's curiosity as to the identity of the writer sparks an affair with the much younger Johnny (Tom Everett Scott) while local fire chief, George (Tom Selleck), whom she's known since high school days, also begins amorous overtures. Helen's co-worker and best friend, Janet (Ellen DeGeneres) is her polar opposite; a spirited date-aholic. As the letter gradually makes its way around the close-knit community each reader assumes the role of intended recipient; initiating a series of romantic mishaps which dramatically alters the way of life in Loblolly.

"It's not the whimisical delight it aspires to be but there is something appealing about this old-fashioned film which in days gone by would have been called a "women's picture". It might have starred Joan Crawford or Bette Davis as the middle-aged heroine whose romantic ups and downs with a younger man and one her own age would strike a chord with female viewers. Today it's called a "chick flick" but the basic pattern remains. The best thing about The Love Letter is Kate Capshaw who effortlessly generates sympathy and laughs as the lonely bookseller suddenly surrounded by suitors. She anchors the film through weak plot contrivances where clunky coincidences turn the sleepy (comatose is probably more accurate) town of Loblolly into a hotbed of imagined passion. This is the kind of town where the bookshop has more employees than customers and the fire-chief (Tom Selleck) drives around with the siren wailing simply for the amusement of his daughter. Nothing is real here and while Capshaw's romantic entanglements with nice-guy Selleck and lovestruck employee Tom Everett Scott are pleasant enough there's something soft and squishy about the whole affair which prevents it really taking off. Casting Blythe Danner as Capshaw's mother also doesn't help - she only looks about 10 years older and all we can imagine is perhaps she was a child bride. For all its faults, including a clumsy revelation of the writer's true identity, The Love Letter has just enough charm to warrant a pass mark and emerge as a decent "chick flick".
Richard Kuipers

"Hong Kong filmmaker Peter Ho-sun Chan (Comrades: Almost a Love Story) makes his American feature debut with this rambling heart-teaser. But it's not clear what he is trying to achieve. If it is to simply entertain, then he's succeeded simply. The story ambles along at the leisurely pace a small seaside town would, and it's nice to sit back and become involved in the lives of the townsfolk. Yet the story lacks the narrative thrust that would give weight to its intricate themes of love, lust, desire, admiration, patience, and courage. The relationships between the rather stereotyped characters are just as intricate and intertwined, but the necessary sense of connection and longevity between them is somewhat lacking. When the letter enters Helen's life, it triggers feeling she's been pushing away for years. Instead of making the connection with George, the man who's always loved her, she connects with Johnny, the lusting adolescent. As others read the letter and make their own presumptions, the consequences are not nearly as interesting, confronting, or controversial as they could have been. It makes more a ripple than a wave in these people's lives, and the film suffers from lack of definitive substance. Like me, you may guess the author of the letter about half way through, for it's rather obvious. If you do, much of the mystery and romance of the film evaporates from there. Still, the performances of all actors are strong, with Capshaw and Selleck giving poignant portrayals in the film's central relationship. DeGeneres is...well...the same nervously energetic DeGeneres we've come to love or loathe. The Love Letter is a sentimentally mild film that's at best enjoyable escapism and at worst a stereotyped bore."
Shannon J. Harvey

"Made in Hollywood by the Hong Kong director Peter Chan, The Love Letter is an unusually gentle romantic comedy - so gentle that when it came out in America in the same week as The Phantom Menace, it disappeared without a trace. It's a 'small' film, running less than ninety minutes: from the opening shots of a sleepy seaside town, with boats at anchor in the early morning, Chan gives the images the unformed look of a slightly smudged watercolor. There's a recognisably Hong Kong style to the dreamy use of diffusion effects - dissolves, soft-focus, scenes masked or seen through rain. Chan doesn't smother everything in 'style,' but he's able to occasionally move into abstraction - the patterns reflected in a windscreen, or a brief use of slow motion - without breaking the film's flow. This blurring effect extends to the dialogue and jokes (which rarely seem quite pointed enough) and the way the sketchy scenes tend to slide into each other, or to end before they begin. At worst, the film threatens to dissolve into greeting-card sentiment, but the wit of the likeable ensemble cast (led by Kate Capshaw, who's terrific) mostly keeps things anchored in some kind of reality. The secret of the script is the way it shares out the possibility of romance between virtually all the characters. As each in turn finds the love letter and assumes it's meant for him or her, any number of possible romances can be hinted at or dreamed about - whether or not anything actually takes place. 'This is midsummer madness,' says one of the chalk signs in the bookstore where Helen works; it's the same kind of pixillated, heightened atmosphere that locally Seachange tries for (but mostly doesn't achieve)."
Jake Wilson

Email this article

Favourable: 1
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 2



CAST: Kate Capshaw, Tom Everett Scott, Tom Selleck, Ellen DeGeneres,

Julianne Nicholson, Blythe Danner, Geraldine McEwan.

DIRECTOR: Peter Ho-sun Chan.

PRODUCER: Kate Capshaw, Sarah Pillsbury, Midge Sanford

SCRIPT: Maria Maggenti, based on the novel by Cathleen Schine.


EDITOR: Jacqueline Cambas

MUSIC: Luis Enríquez Bacalov(as Luis Bacalov)


RUNNING TIME: 88 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: United International Pictures

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 10, 2000

VIDEO RELEASE: June 28, 2000

VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Universal Pictures Video

© Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2020