“Sometimes it’s right to do the wrong thing.”
This weekend, the buzz was all about Halloween Kills, the second installment in this specific timeline chronicling the saga between Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and Michael Meyers. The movie is definitely going for the evil personified angle and while the storytelling is decidedly not good (Curtis is woefully underused and the phrase “evil dies tonight” pretty much comprises a fourth of the script), the sequel at least wastes no time in giving folks what they want in terms of kills and suspense.
It has been great to see Curtis making a conscious choice to embrace her acting horror roots once again, considering how hard she worked to set herself apart from the genre. For those following along, it took a handful of made-for-TV movies and a dynamite turn in the comedy Trading Places in order for her to be seen as an actress who could deliver a performance outside of the horror realm. In between those efforts, however, Curtis turned in a sensitive performance with a small independent drama that showed a side of her no other film had before.
Written and directed by Amy Holden Jones, Love Letters stars Curtis as Anna, a Los Angeles radio personality who discovers a series of letters detailing an affair between a married man and her recently deceased mother (Bonnie Bartlett). As Anna delves further into the letters, she herself begins falling for a married man named Oliver (James Keach).
Loosely inspired by Jones’s own experience, Love Letters strays from the conventional tale of forbidden romance by having Anna enter into her affair as an experiment of sorts. Anna, as presented to us, had a loving but distant relationship with both her parents and has designed her life so that she doesn’t have to deal with anything real. The combination of her mother’s death, the discovery that she carried on an affair with a married man, and Oliver’s appearance in her life all kickstart a daring side to Anna that she cannot help but succumb to. In some ways, she starts her affair with Oliver as a way of trying to understand her mother. However, Anna eventually ends up trying to find herself through the relationship. As things progress, it becomes less about Anna trying to uncover answers and more about being swept away by the intoxication of this passionate affair. The scene showing Oliver stopping by her apartment only to reveal he’s just made love with his wife is a telling turning point for Anna, signified by her heartbreaking reaction. Even though they both think they know what they’re entering into initially, their time together ends up being something neither Oliver nor Anna can control.
Love Letters takes the time to make some interesting choices, visually and otherwise, in telling Anna’s story. For a love story that’s as heavy on the romance as this one is, it’s an interesting choice to have the film’s most intimate scene taking place off camera. During a love scene in bed between Anna and Oliver, the camera is shown facing a dark surface while the latter takes instant photos of the former, which the director lets fall to the center of the shot. In each of the shots we see the effect of the relationship in Anna’s face; we see her radiance, her joy, and the warmth that comes from starting to genuinely fall in love. Jones gives us other interesting shots, such as one of Anna reflected in the shine of the piano, but the most experimental aspect of Love Letters happens with the letters themselves. As Anna reads one letter after another, we hear the voice of her mother’s lover letting us in on the secret romance he shared with her. It’s his voice and words that echo Anna’s current reality that give the film a special quality and shows love as the truly universal force that it is.
Curtis has so rarely ever gotten the props she’s deserved as an actress outside of genre films. Trading Places, A Fish Called Wanda and True Lies all contain some of her best work. The acclaim, accolades and lifespan of each of these films prove that. But a case must be made for just how much emotion and empathy Curtis lends her characters as evidenced by her work in Love Letters. The actress approaches Anna without any judgment whatsoever and surrenders herself to the character’s journey. The choices she makes all show an actress deeply in tune with the woman she’s bringing to life, whether it be through her interactions with the surrounding characters or the silent looks of longing she gives, all of which haunt the film. Love Letters may have been breaking the mold by showing an extramarital affair from the point of view of “the other woman,” but Curtis ensures Anna is seen as more than that.
Love Letters got a lot of advance buzz upon release due to the level of nudity it contained. According to Jones, producer Roger Corman insisted on a high amount of nude scenes in order to secure funding, which the director then incorporated into the script. Knowing the nudity had been demanded by the producer, but created by the director, Curtis embraced that element of the film wholeheartedly. But the nude scenes eventually overtook the movie itself, culminating in a somewhat awkward interview between Curtis and David Letterman during the press tour. All of that aside, the film remains the kind of solidly made independent character drama that proved a rare beast in the slasher-heavy landscape of the early 80s. Poetic and honest, Love Letters is about the choices made, the lives they effect, and the time that passes.