Light spoilers ahead for The Last Letter From Your Lover
A few years ago, while going through old photos and mementos at my grandmother’s apartment in Croatia, I found a collection of letters my mom had written to my dad when they were separated during the Yugoslav wars. They were sweet and flirty — sometimes romantic, sometimes silly, always at least four pages long.
In one, she wrote that she’d gotten a haircut and had enclosed a photo, wanting to know if he liked it. In another, she ended with the directive (translated), “Take care of yourself, live through this war, and be an optimist.” Reading them, I had a completely new understanding of both my parents’ relationship and the war they lived through. Letters are magical because not only do they record a time and place, they preserve a relationship, and they often tell a better story than any romance novel could.
Few movies have understood the epistolary romance better than Nick Cassavetes’s The Notebook, and arguably no movie has done it as well since.
The Last Letter From Your Lover, on Netflix today, gives us all that juicy will-they-won’t-they romantic suspense, and it is, in my humble opinion, superior. Like The Notebook, it’s structured within a frame narrative, but instead of one London based romance, there are two. Shailene Woodley is a surprisingly believable wealthy ’60s housewife named Jenny who is recovering from amnesia — naturally, this is also an amnesia movie — and discovering, via letters written to her, the affair she had with a journalist who is primarily referred to as “Boot” but whose real name is Anthony O’Hare, played by the absolutely dreamy Callum Turner.
The story of Jenny’s affair — and the flashbacks that follow — runs parallel to a plot line about contemporary journalist Ellie (Felicity Jones). In the present day, Ellie also finds the letters from Boot and starts obsessively investigating them with the help of Rory (Nabhaan Rizwan), an archivist. She’s a rule-breaking commitmentphobe, he’s a rule-following cat owner, and we all know where this is going.
The letters themselves are delicious declarations of unabashed adoration, and they certainly gave me the urge to write a long, flowery email, maybe even an actual letter. They are short, vivid vignettes of shared moments and possible futures, kind of like daydreams written down, containing lines like, “If all we are allowed are hours and minutes, I will etch them onto my memory so I can recall them in the same way that when I close my eyes, I see your heavenly face,” and “We could be happy. So happy. Know that you hold my heart, my hopes in your hands.”
The movie also feels like a daydream visually. The styling is impeccable, in particular for Jenny: the monochrome sets, thick Twiggy lashes, and impeccable manicures that gave me an appreciation for Shailene Woodley’s gorgeous hands. The portrayal of a summer romance on the French Riviera is idyllic in contrast to the chaos of 1960s London — and modern-day London, at that. Even the film’s nightmarish moments, occurring mostly during car rides through rainy London and once in Jenny’s husband’s dimly lit study, have a dreamy quality.
Sure, there are plot holes and questions left unanswered — are we really supposed to believe Boot never wrote Jenny a single letter even though her P.O. box was open the whole time? And sure, the character development could be stronger. But the romance is what truly shines. Writing a letter, especially if it’s to your lover, is a chance to slow down enough to say what you really mean. It’s an opportunity for shameless simping.
The Last Letter From Your Lover is a total yearn extravaganza, and that’s part of its magic. Relationships, 90 percent of the time, are not actually romantic. They are mostly banal: debates over what temperature to set the AC on, stressful visits with extended family, stacks of bills to go through. Is it possible to experience the monotony of daily life romantically? Sure, maybe, but part of why the movie works so well is that Jenny and Boot don’t actually spend their lives together. Too many complications would have weighed them down, and maybe they would’ve forgotten the honeymoon phase of their relationship.
I’m obviously glad my parents did spend their lives together, and I’ve always known they love each other. But their relationship didn’t feel like a romance until I read those letters, and I think that’s why letter writing is so special. It’s a chance to put it all out there in the most profound or honest or funny way we know how. And The Last Letter From Your Lover is a celebration of that.