Monday 21 March 2022

Book Of Love (2022) - Movie Review

I’m not sure what I was hoping to get out of this. I mean, it’s a cheesetastic rom-com with a very specific audience that I am in no way a part of; even with my usual willingness to watch just about anything, I went into this mainly as just a means to get out of the house for a bit. But as I sat in that cinema, completely alone, I came face to face with a film that managed an admittedly impressive gambit of being both unfathomably boring and infuriating to sit through.

Let’s start with the premise, because it is rather surprising just how fucked this is from the base upwards. Meekish author Henry (Sam Claflin in his most awkward role yet), after months of non-success with the release of his first novel, discovers that it has garnered rave reviews in Mexico… but only because local translator Maria (Ver√≥nica Echegui) completely rewrote it from a basic romance into scintillating erotica. Yeah, it’s more “keep the lie going for the sake of plot” narrative, with Henry and Maria needing to basically bullshit their way through a book tour for most of the film, but the premise itself is at least interesting to start with. This kind of Fifty Shades, author-meets-their-more-successful-Rule-34 setup could get into the nuances of translating prose for different markets, or the ravenous appetites for more salacious writing, or even just the fantasy provided by such works.

Instead, though, writers Analeine Cal y Mayor and David Quantick chose the path of absolute resistance, and used this premise as a means to teach the chaste Henry about the passions of romance. Or, to put it more accurately, forcing him to do so, as his newfound reputation for smut leads in-film to a lot of unsolicited nudes, thrown panties, and audiences full of heavy breathing over the course of the book tour. Because, as mainstream cinema and television keep trying to insist, sexual harassment is just hi-larious when it happens to men.

Even ignoring how bizarre the gender optics for this are as it stands, having the story be about the reappropriation, damn-near theft, of someone else’s work, and having it primarily set in Mexico of all places… did anyone think that one through? I don’t know if it’s the gender optics here or if it’s because I have a certain admiration for films that focus on writers and other creatives, but this whole thing was quite uncomfortable to sit through. I don’t need to see a film so lacking in self-awareness that they make their woman lead Gaslight Gatekeep Girlboss unironically.

What makes that even harder to swallow is that, for all its fixation of telenovela and soap opera histrionics, the actual plot and writing here are as rigid and awkward as Henry himself. It can’t breach the barrier where poking at how plain and dull his own writing is can get past the fact that the dialogue, by and large, fails to be any more engaging. The chemistry between Claflin and Echegui is close-to-non-existent, and the progression is about as far removed from real simmering romance as it is possible to get. There’s a real monotony to a lot of their off-tour scenes together, a lot of which relies on just making light of British stereotypes, which… I would have said was one of the easiest things to make fun of already, if not for the fact that this script flounders so badly with it. The fact that the tour scenes seem to have the same group of extras in every single scene doesn’t help with the repetitive nature of the whole thing.

I’m struggling to think of what the appeal of this thing is, even within its supposed target demographic. It can’t seem to make its mind up about whether a fantastical fiction of romance or an actual life as melodramatic as a romance novel is what is meant to be desired by the characters here, and the way they go about seeking those goals lands either in the realms of uninteresting or flagrantly duplicitous. There’s a degree to which I’m willing to look past the cliches and tropes of the genre, as even fluff serves its purpose for the right people, but when it gets into trying to make me handwave things that are legitimately aggravating on my own side of the screen like broken creative ethics and insulting double standards… yeah, I’m not putting up with that.

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