The Love Letter

USA 1999

Reviewed by Leslie Felperin


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

Helen is a divorced single mother who owns a bookshop in Loblolly-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts. One day while opening the mail, she finds an unsigned love letter, addressed only to "Darling", which speaks of the impossibility of the writer ever being with its addressee. Assuming it was meant for her, Helen wonders who her admirer could be. Her college-boy employee Johnny finds the letter and thinks Helen wrote it and intentionally left it for him to find. He drops a hint to let Helen know he's read it, which makes her think he's the letter's author. Meanwhile, Helen's best friend, the shop's manager Janet, finds the letter and assumes local fireman George wrote it for her, even though he has been carrying a torch for years for Helen. Meanwhile, Helen has started a secret affair with Johnny but still goes out on a couple of dates with George. When Helen tells Janet the letter wasn't for her, they argue and fall out.

Meanwhile, young Jennifer has developed a crush on Johnny and cuts all her hair off when he rebuffs her advances. Helen's mother Lillian and grandmother Eleanor return from an extended holiday, and Lillian comes out as a lesbian to Helen, revealing she's been in love for years with local historian Constance Scattergoods. The town's policeman Dan finds the letter and, pretending he wrote it, proposes with it to his girlfriend. Helen breaks off with Johnny in favour of George. Constance and Lillian find the letter and sit musing on how it had been lost - Constance had written it to Lillian years ago.


A romantic comedy focusing, unusually this year, on characters past puberty, The Love Letter seems genetically engineered to serve as video popcorn fuel for girlie nights in, its theatrical release a mere formality (although it has done surprisingly well at the box office in the US). Although ineffably slight with its soapy focus on a mature single mother torn between two equally toothsome if bland suitors, this film more than adequately meets its target audience's demands for cheerfully lachrymose drama. A certain bittersweetness - like milk chocolate chased with cheap beer - bubbles out its thematic concern with the 'wrong' turns and missed opportunities of love. Because Helen never found a secret note in a postcard sent years ago, she didn't get it together with George; in the present, because she finds an anonymous letter she ends up embroiled in an affair with the ardent young Johnny.

It's the sort of too-neat parallelism that screenwriting courses encourage, though presumably the conceit originates in Cathleen Schine's source novel, which is probably also to blame for the sickly, homey prose of the titular love letter in which the author waxes lyrical about its correspondent "when I tie my shoe... when I peel an orange."

Funnily enough, the inspiration to make the film apparently sprang from it's leading actress and producer Kate Capshaw reading a review of the book. Legend has it that she bought the rights to the book out of her own pocket, but the $30,000 wasn't even noticed missing from the family cookie jar by her husband, Steven Spielberg. Nonetheless, his DreamWorks studio has produced the film, and a happy-slappy family atmosphere cosies over the proceedings like a backseat tartan rug (one of the Spielberg enfants even has a walk-on part).

Director Peter Ho-Sun Chan (formerly based in Hong Kong and director of Comrades, Almost a Love Story) coaxes warm, low-key and likeable ensemble performances from his cast of television actors and lesser-known stars and creates the occasional soft-focus effect by shooting through age-warped windows. On the evidence of the easy competence he displays here, he shouldn't have much trouble securing future work in Hollywood.


Sarah Pillsbury
Midge Sanford
Kate Capshaw
Maria Maggenti
Based on the novel by
Cathleen Schine
Director of Photography
Tami Reiker
Jacqueline Cambas
Production Designer
Andrew Jackness
Luis Bacalov
©DreamWorks LLC
Production Companies
DreamWorks Pictures presents a Sanford/Pillsbury production
Executive Producers
Beau Flynn
Stefan Simchowitz
Karen Koch
Production Controller
Jim Turner
Production Co-ordinator
Chris White
Unit Production Manager
Karen Koch
Location Manager
Benjamin Dewey
Martin Cohen
Lisa Dennis Kennedy
Lisa Marie Serra
Assistant Directors
Justin Muller
Mary Ellen Woods
Molly Mayeux
Kristen Ploucha
Script Supervisor
Deirdre Horgan
Mali Finn
Emily Schweber
ADR Voice:
L.A. MadDogs
Camera Operators
Brian Heller
Austin De Besche
Digital Visual Effects
Perpetual Motion Pictures
Visual Effects Supervisor:
Richard Malzahn
Visual Effects Producer:
Kimberly Sylvester
René Clark
Special Effects
J.C. Brotherhood
Art Director
Carl Sprague
Set Decorator
Tracey A. Doyle
Costume Designer
Tracy Tynan
Costume Supervisor
Debbie Holbrook
Key Make-up Artist
Melanie Hughes
Make-up Artist
Rebecca Alling
Key Hairstylist
Frances Mathias
Rita Parillo
Pacific Title/Mirage
Music Performed by
Orchestra di Roma
Franco Patrignani
Additional Mixer
Luciani Torani
Héctor Ulises Passarella
Riccardo Pellegrino
Ettore Pellegrino
Franco Ferrant
Luis Bacalov
Juan Bacalov
Executive in Charge of Music
Todd Homme
Music Editor
Sharon Smith
"I'm in the Mood for Love" by Dorothy Fields, Jimmy McHugh, performed by Louis Armstrong; "Only the Lonely" by Roy Orbison, Joe Melson, performed by Roy Orbison; "Love Potion #9" by Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller, performed by The Clovers; "Si mi chiamano Mimi" from "La Bohème" composed by Giacomo Puccini, libretto by Giuseppe Giacosa & Luigi Illica; "Feelin' Alright" by Dave Mason, performed by Joe Cocker; "Recondita armonia", "Presto su Mario Mario" from "Tosca" by composed by Giacomo Puccini, libretto: Giuseppe Giacosa & Luigi Illica, performed by Slovak Philharmonic Chorus & Czecho-Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra; "I've Never Been in Love Before" by Frank Loesser, performed by Chet Baker
Production Sound Mixer
John Patrick Pritchett
Mark Kalm
Re-recording Mixers
André Perreault
Derek Marcil
Supervising Sound Editors
Victoria Rose Sampson
David Hankins
Sound Editors
Mike Babcock
Bruce Tanis
Dialogue Editors
David Beadle
Sonya Henry
Lawrence Goeb
Jane Boegel
Rosemary Alexander
Luis Bacalov
Steve Bulen
Mitch Carter
Robert Clotworthy
David Cowgill
Wendy Cutler
Moosie Drier
Jake Eissinmann
Elisa Gabrielli
Jackie Gonneau
Nicholas Guest
Bridgette Hoffman
Richard Horvitz
Kellyann Kelso
Matthew Laborteaux
Edie Mirman
Sarah Sampson
Melanie Spore
Claudette Wells
Lynnanne Zager
Dale Perry
Zane Bruce
Elizabeth Rainey
Cary Butler
Dog Handler
Carleen White
Kate Capshaw
Helen MacFarquhar
Blythe Danner
Ellen DeGeneres
Geraldine McEwan
Constance Scattergoods
Julianne Nicholson
Tom Everett Scott
Tom Selleck
George Mathias
Gloria Stuart
Bill Buell
Officer Dan
Alice Drummond
postal clerk
Erik Jensen
Margaret Ann Brady
Jessica Capshaw
Walter Covell
post office customer
Patrick Donnelly
bookstore customer
Lucas Hall
Christian Harmony
Christopher Nee
garbage men
Marilyn Rockafellow
Breanne Smith
Sasha Spielberg
girl with sparkler
United International Pictures (UK) Ltd
7,868 feet
87 minutes 25 seconds
Dolby Digital/Digital DTS sound/SDDS
In Colour
Prints by
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011