I love a good romance. The first spark of something, the quickening heartbeat of the growing attraction, the crescendo when the couple comes together, and the happy moment when they walk off into the sunset. It brings a smile to my face that compares to few things within the world of fiction. The problem is that too many narratives insert a romantic storyline that feels forced, unnecessary, or half-written.
The Last Letter from Your Lover, based on the book of the same name by Jojo Moyes, was released on Netflix a few weeks ago. In 1965, Lawrence and Jennifer Stirling (Joe Alwyn and Shailene Woodley) appear to be the picture-perfect couple. He is a wealthy industrialist and she enjoys the lifestyle that his profession affords them both. But this picture has cracks in it. The final crack comes in the form of writer Anthony O’Hare (Callum Turner), who has a love affair with Jennifer. Their only way to communicate is via a series of secret love letters.
Decades later, journalist Ellie Haworth (Felicity Jones) has found the letters and is using them as the topic for her next article. Working with colleague Rory McCallan (Nabhaan Rizwan), they start to put the pieces of the puzzle together. Along the way, their relationship turns from strictly professional to something more.
A Romance That Works
I feel for Jennifer. She wants to be happy with her husband, but the fact is that she is not. The truth is that neither she nor Larry trying to make it work. In 2021, she could have gotten a divorce and be done with it. But at that time and in that social stratum, it was a relatively new concept that was not yet considered to be an appropriate outcome to an unhappy marriage. I have a feeling that it was easier (especially for women) to stick it out and pretend that everything was alright.
When Anthony enters the picture, the dark cloud that is hanging over Jennifer begins to evaporate. She starts to smile, laugh, and enjoy life again. But both she and the audience know that at some point, Larry is going to find out and the shit will hit the fan. It works because the romantic chemistry between Woodley and Turner comes off as organic and natural. Jennifer is reaching for something that is missing. Anthony fills that void.
A Romance That Does Not Work
When we met Ellie, her career is solid, but her love life is full of potholes. She does not expect to fall for Rory when they meet for the first time. He is just the guy whose job it is to provide her with the reference material needed to do her job. Anyone who has seen or read enough rom-coms knows that this is a generic jumping-off point. The problem is that all of the energy and attention was put into the 1960’s narrative. The relationship between Ellie and Rory is an afterthought. Whatever spark and chemistry that exists between Jennifer and Anthony are completely missing between Ellie and Rory.
The key to any good love story is the first emotional click between the characters. If the audience is to believe that there is a chance of a happy ending, there must be that moment in which the literal light bulb turns on. There is nothing there between Ellie and Rory. It is an empty relationship that tries to parallel what Jennifer and Anthony have. But it fails to create any sort of emotion or even explain what it is that not only brings Ellie and Rory together but keeps them together. Though I appreciate the casting of a non-white actor in a Caucasian role, it does not make up for the underdevelopment of this storyline.
An Overall Disappointment
With everything that is going on in the world right now, we need something to make us feel good. Believing in love and the possibility of finding your person is creating a feeling of possibilities and a happy future that counteracts all of the crap that is going on in the world right now. While I did not read the book and cannot comment on the emotions that Moyes creates for her readers, I can say the adaptation was disappointing.
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