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It's Time To Talk About Joe Alwyn And Shailene Woodley In The Last Letter From Your Lover

This content was paid for by Netflix and created by Looper.

Modern technology may have changed our means of communication, but there's nothing quite like a classic love letter to get the heart swelling. In "The Last Letter from Your Lover," an ambitious journalist's discovery of a very personal and vintage piece of mail inspires her to seek out a full treasure trove of notes between two secret lovers in the '60s. And as the details of the all-consuming affair come to light, audiences are invited to join along on this journey into the past and uncover the truth of a forbidden romance.

The film, which adapts Jojo Moyes' novel of the same name, features gorgeous costumes and scenery across these parallel timelines. Between the breathtaking fashions and décor of the '60s and the quaint flats and bustling energy of the modern era, both storylines are completely transportive and engaging to behold. In addition to the sublime look of the movie, it also boasts riveting character dynamics that are all delicate and alluring, thanks to the stellar work of the cast.

And one of the film's most complex relationships exists between Jennifer, portrayed by Shailene Woodley, and her husband, Laurence Stirling, played by Joe Alwyn. They may be young, beautiful, and rich, but there's much more to the Stirlings than meets the eye, and Woodley and Alwyn each do an amazing job bringing out the nuances of their characters. So to celebrate some of the star performances of "The Last Letter from Your Lover," let's take a deeper dive into how Woodley and Alwyn set such a striking tone of trouble at a critical moment in the film.

Cutting the tension with a knife

No marriage is simple, but when we first meet the Stirlings, it's clear that they have an unusual amount of complications looming between them. Not only is Laurence an important industrialist whose thriving career often keeps him away from home, but thanks to an injury from a mysterious accident, Jennifer has very few memories of who she is — and, more importantly, who her husband is.

Even as she tries to put on a brave face and go along with the flow of this privileged but unfamiliar life, Woodley presents Jennifer as a woman who's quietly struggling to play the part, no matter how lovely it may be. She has a natural elegance, yes, but her early expressions in the film make it clear that she has more questions than answers when it comes to her status and marriage. Meanwhile, Alwyn depicts Laurence as someone who's self-assured and confident when it comes to most people but who's always leaving something unsaid when it comes to exchanges with Jennifer.

One scene that particularly reveals the simmering discontent and distance between Jennifer and Laurence takes place early in the film, when they entertain some friends with a lavish dinner. Although Jennifer has been told by her supposed best friend that she has the "perfect life" and a husband who "adores" her, Jennifer's quietness during the dinner scene suggests that she's not quite convinced of either of those things.

As Laurence merrily discusses his latest career feat and some major political connections, Jennifer is stoic and seemingly unimpressed. But her expression changes a bit once she's silently whisked away into a flash of a returning memory — one that seems freer and far less stuffy than her current state. When her mind returns to the table, Woodley's face shows that her character is quietly crestfallen by this fleeting glimpse of something that's missing, even as she continues to smile along with the others. Things soon become even tenser when Laurence interrupts the conversation to insist that Jennifer not have a second drink per doctor's orders, which somehow invites the other guests to rudely question whether she's really forgotten her whole life or not.

A side of eye daggers

For most of the scene leading up to this intense moment, Woodley portrays Jennifer as someone who's uncomfortable but feigns interest for the sake of everyone else in the room. However, after Laurence pulls his power move and tries to control her choice of beverage, Jennifer's face becomes positively statuesque as she fights to maintain her polite grin, all the while throwing eye daggers at her husband. With just her strained smile and pointed looks, Woodley manages to reveal the exact moment her character realizes she isn't happy in this place or with these people, even if she doesn't yet know why.

We've certainly seen Woodley pull off some powerful scenes before, particularly when it comes to her celebrated work in dramas like "The Descendants," "The Spectacular Now," and "Big Little Lies." Here, though, her turn is especially impressive as she manages to say so much about her character's confusion and contempt with very few words.

Plus, Alwyn's line delivery is extremely impressive throughout the scene. The actor — known for his standout work in features like "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk," "The Favourite," and "Mary Queen of Scots" — doesn't need a raised voice or an overt expression of anger to convey that his character has a thinly veiled sense of resentment for Jennifer or that he's trying to control her. Instead, his tone is gentle and refined, even if his own piercing eyes tell a different story than his handsome smile. Alwyn presents Laurence as a man who's prideful about keeping up appearances and keeping his wife under his carefully manicured thumb.

This scene is just one of many moments in "The Last Letter from Your Lover" where Woodley and Alwyn shine, but since it's an inflection point for the characters — where Jennifer begins testing the waters of her own life anew — it's a critical one to establish what's really happening between the Stirlings. Even though it's a relatively cheery scene on the surface, both actors do an excellent job of encouraging audiences to read between the lines to discover something foundational about their characters.