The Love Letter (1999 film)

The Love Letter

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Peter Chan
Produced by Kate Capshaw
Sarah Pillsbury
Midge Sanford
Screenplay by Maria Maggenti
Story by Cathleen Schine (novel)
Starring Kate Capshaw
Blythe Danner
Ellen DeGeneres
Tom Everett Scott
Tom Selleck
Music by Luis Enríquez Bacalov
Cinematography Tami Reiker
Edited by Jacqueline Cambas
Distributed by DreamWorks Pictures
Release dates
  • May 21, 1999 (1999-05-21)
Running time
88 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $20 million
Box office $8,302,478

The Love Letter is a 1999 American romantic comedy film directed by Peter Chan and starring Kate Capshaw, Ellen DeGeneres, Tom Everett Scott and Tom Selleck. It is based on the novel by Cathleen Schine. The original music score was composed by Luis Enriquez Bacalov. The film takes place in the New England town of Loblolly-by-the-Sea.


Helen MacFarquhar (Kate Capshaw), a middle-aged bookseller, having recently divorced and after sending her daughter off to summer camp, and her nagging ex-husband trying to convince her to pay for some of their daughter's activities is ready to move on to the next stage in her life. One morning, as she is going through the mail, she discovers an anonymous blue love letter, without an envelope and a name. Having discovered this letter in her mail, in her bookstore, she naturally thinks it is for her. But the only question is, who is it from? At first, she thinks it is from George Matthias, the local fireman, but decides it couldn't be him, after trying to give him subtle hints ("have you ever been 'on fire?'") Not having any idea who may be the writer of the love letter, she just puts it away in her purse and tries to forget about it.

Then, Johnny, a college student who has a summer job working in Helen's bookstore, is invited to her house for dinner. During dinner she puts two wine glasses and a bottle next to her purse, which has the letter in it. By mistake, and not noticing it, Helen accidentally knocks the letter out of the purse. While in the kitchen cooking, she tells Johnny to have some wine. Johnny comes across the letter, and is struck by it. He mistakenly thinks it is from Helen! Later that night, he begins to "peel an orange", a line from the letter. Seeing his hint, Helen rushes into the house and says goodnight. Johnny leaves. In the next few weeks, Johnny and Helen meet and begin an affair, each thinking the other wrote the letter.

Helen goes to the bookstore, and brings the letter with her. She leaves her purse on the desk. Then, Helen's manager, Janet Hall (Ellen DeGeneres), arrives. Helen decides not to tell her about the letter just yet. While she is upstairs working, George comes in with new smoke detectors for the store. Janet accepts them, but the desk collapses, along with Helen's purse, which contains the letter. In all the chaos, the letter is mixed in with the instruction manuals for the smoke detectors. George, before leaving, says "Make sure you read the manuals first." Then, Janet opens the manual, and the letter falls out. She reads it and thinks it is from George. Later that day, Janet rushes over to tell Helen about the letter. But Helen, not knowing how to say it, just takes it and says "It's mine". Janet, angry at Helen for not having faith in her happiness, quits her job as manager.

As the story progresses, many others accidentally find the letter and mistake its meant for them. During the affair, Johnny uses a friend Jennifer's affections for him to make Helen jealous. However, she's disheartened to realize he was using her. An officer also finds a letter, thinking it was from a lady he admires; takes the letter and presents it to her on a date. But his date thinks he wrote the letter for her. As the affair goes on, Johnny's feelings deepen, and becomes jealous of Helen's closeness with George. He continues to try and push for a real relationship; however Helen's torn with her feelings for George. When it comes to a boiling point, the pair realize that neither side wrote the love letter. Helen also realizes that George still loved her when she finds a message he left in a postcard.

And the two break up on amiable terms. Unfortunately, George hears the breakup and is left heartbroken and confused. Though his divorced is finalized, he feels he's lost Helen to Johnny. However, Helen isn't ready to let go of her feelings for George and asks if it really is over. George quietly replies "They have bad timing" and announces he's taking his daughters to New York. Though Helen wants him to stay, he seems determined to leave. The next day, Helen reveals to George that she never read the inside message he left. She also declares that she still wants to keep in contact with him. Hinting that the two still want to continue their relationship, George smiles and says he'll send a "postcard".

Amidst all the confusion, it is revealed that the letter was actually written by Helen's mother's lover, another woman. Early in her life, Helen's mother fell in love with a woman who wrote her a letter expressing her love. Considering the conservative time period and social stigma, the relationship was never to be, but Helen's mom had kept the letter to help her remember her past. All the confusion is cleared up and Helen connects with her mom when she tells her about her past affair.

Main cast

Actor Role
Kate Capshaw Helen MacFarquhar
Blythe Danner Lillian MacFarquhar
Ellen DeGeneres Janet Hall
Julianne Nicholson Jennifer
Tom Everett Scott Johnny
Tom Selleck George Matthias
Gloria Stuart Eleanor
Geraldine McEwan Miss Scattergoods
Jack Black Fisherman (uncredited)


The Love Letter received negative reviews from critics. It holds a 33% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 51 reviews.

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