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LOVE LETTERS

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Aug. 30, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: When she made the low-budget drama ‘Love Letters’ some 35 years ago, Jamie Lee Curtis was struggling to escape her ‘scream queen’ status after hitting it big with ‘Halloween’ (1978) and five follow-up fright flicks. Her first step in that direction was ‘Trading Places,’ a big hit in 1983, but that was a comedy vehicle for Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy in which she had a supporting role. The next year, ‘Love Letters,’ an independent Roger Corman-produced picture, gave Curtis her first non-horror starring vehicle. Most critics singled her out as a serious dramatic actress to contend with and the film was a modest hit. After languishing for years as a muddy release on bargain-bin DVDs, the film is getting a Blu-ray upgrade from the quirky Scorpion label. My ‘Love Letters’ review is below, published in the Deseret News on May 4, 1984.

From her first few films, “Halloween,” “Prom Night,” “Terror Train,” “Roadgames” and “Halloween II,” who would have thought Jamie Lee Curtis would prove to be as fine an actress as she is?

But last year, Curtis deftly handled comedy in “Trading Places,” and now gives a sensitive, touching portrait of a lonely young woman in “Love Letters.”

Curtis plays a young (22) Los Angeles woman, working as a disc jockey for a small, listener-supported radio station, specializing in classical music, a program that immediately precedes a ’50s rock music program hosted by slovenly, bizarre Bud Cort.

The film begins at the end, actually, immediately flashing back six months for the length of the film, as Curtis’ mother dies, leaving her alone to deal with her abusive, alcoholic father.

 

James Keach, left, Bud Cort, 'Love Letters' (1984)

As she goes through her mother’s things she is surprised to find a box of letters — love letters written by a man with whom Curtis’ mother had had an affair some 20 years earlier.

She becomes obsessed with the letters, reads them repeatedly, and finds a parallel in her own life as she enters into an equally doomed love affair with a married man (James Keach).

In the end, she learns a lesson, and the ending is a nice one, fitting perfectly with the mood of this low-key film.

The subject is not new, of course, but it is handled realistically here, with a number of plot twists that seem logical and sadly right. There is a constant undertone of sadness, as both Keach and Curtis tell themselves they will be honest in the relationship — both realizing all along that it can only end in pain.

Though obviously pure soap opera, “Love Letters” is written and directed by Amy Jones with a gentle sensitivity that is rare in movies today. Similarly, Curtis’ first-rate performance is flawless. She is convincing as a slightly naïve 22-year-old woman who has never been able to find a good man, while at the same time projecting a maturity beyond her years.

     

James Keach, brother of Stacy, is very good as the older (40) man with whom Curtis falls in love, Matt Clark is appropriately villainous as Curtis’ father, and as her mother, Bonnie Bartlett is very good.

Amy Madigan, fast becoming one of the best young character actresses in the business, with marvelous performances in “Love Child” and “Streets of Fire,” delivers another fine acting job here as Curtis’ best friend, giving sensible advice but recognizing its futility.

There is also a moving musical score by Ralph Jones, along with some themes from Chopin and Bach.

“Love Letters” is a low-budget film and it occasionally shows. The film also tends to drag a bit when director Amy Jones tries too hard to be artsy. But those disappointments are rare in what is otherwise a fascinating film.

My major complaint has to do with the film’s explicit sex scenes, which, in the context of an otherwise delicate movie, seem intrusive. Those scenes are brief but very intense, earning the R rating, which is also for nudity and profanity. There is some violence, as well.