Rated PG-13 - Running time: 1:28 - Released 5/21/99

Being married to one of the hottest movie producers in the business must have worn off on Kate Capshaw. The actress (whose big break was in Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom, where she met her husband, Steven Spielberg), has turned producer with the modest film The Love Letter. Written by Maria Maggenti (based on the novel by Cathleen Schine), and directed by Chinese producer/director Peter Chan, The Love Letter is a cute romance revolving around an anonymous epistle, found between two sofa cushions, that sparks romance among several people in a small New England town. It features nice relationships (between underdeveloped characters) and a generous sprinkling of humor.

Capshaw is Helen, a divorced bookstore owner in the tiny coastal village of Loblolly-By-The-Sea, Massachusetts. Though lonely, she is somewhat bitter after her marital experience; she doesn't seem interested in romance and expends her frustrated energy by running every morning.

One day she is going through the mail and finds a letter, under the pile, with no envelope, that contains the most romantic message she's ever read. It is unsigned and contains no salutation, but she assumes (since it was in her store) that someone left it there for her. She begins imagining all the possible people who could be in love with her, from George Mathias (Tom Selleck), the town's only fireman who's in the middle of a divorce, to her employee Johnny (Tom Everett Scott), a handsome college boy about to return to school, to her manager Janet (Ellen DeGeneres), who attempts to get lucky every night and comes in late every morning. Janet is an unlikely candidate though; despite DeGeneres's well-known orientation, Janet is decidedly heterosexual.

Things start getting complicated, however, when others begin running across the cryptic note. Janet sees it and thinks its for her, from George. Johnny finds it and thinks its for him, from Helen. Consequently, he gets a crush on her, despite the fact that he is the object of Emily's (Breanne Smith) affection. As the romantic temperature rises in the small town, people's well-ordered lives begin to unravel. Of course, we don't discover until the end who the real sender and recipient are, and this revelation is enjoyably surprising.

This movie's greatest asset is its talented cast. The relationships formed between co-workers, friends, and lovers are real and comfortable. Director Chan, in his first American effort, does a good job of steadily raising the romantic tension. Where it fails is in developing the characters individually. Helen is obviously a jaded, tragic heroine, but we never really learn enough of her history to understand why. DeGeneres, though an energetic contrast to Helen's brooding persona, is unknown to us outside the bookstore. Scott's passion is evident as the amorous Johnny, but his needs, wants — even his college major — are undiscovered. Perhaps Chan wanted to focus so much on the romance that he chose to forego character delineation. But if you're in the mood for a light summer romance without too much substance, The Love Letter is adequately uplifting. ****

Copyright 1999 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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