Book of Love – movie review

Although it’s a cliched romantic comedy, Book of Love is not entirely without humour or charm.

Henry Copper (Sam Claflin) is an academic turned writer whose debut novel The Sensible Heart is not exactly a page turner, nor has it been flying off the shelves. In fact, when he holds a meet-the-author session, the book store has a special offer – buy one and take three. The existential love story, which he spent five years writing, is a crashing bore. But then Henry’s publisher Jen (Lucy Punch) informs him that the book is a number one bestseller – in Mexico of all places. Henry promptly sets off on a hastily arranged book tour to help further promote the novel. Jen also sets up some social media accounts for the tour. Of course, Henry is unfamiliar with the world of social media, leading to some awkward moments.

On arrival Henry meets the book’s Mexican translator Maria Rodriguez (Veronice Echegui), a pretty and outspoken woman. Her kindly grandfather Max (Fernando Becerril) and her young son Diego (Ruy Gaytan) both accompany him on his tour because her deadbeat ex has better things to do than look after his son. During the tour through dusty rural Mexico, Henry meets an adoring audience, mainly women, who seem to think he is “the Shakespeare of sex”, according to one tweet.

Then Henry is horrified to learn that not only has Maria translated his book but she has taken out all the “boring bits” and added in lots of sex, turning the novel into a steamy erotic novel along the lines of Fifty Shades of Grey. The bodice-ripping cover prominently displayed in advertising hoarding suggests at the book’s steamy content. But as Henry meets his adoring audience, he discovers some of them have even been inspired to write their own fan fiction based on the novel.

Henry’s publisher wants him to collaborate with Maria on another novel, hoping to replicate the success of The Sensible Heart. Of course, the pair clash repeatedly on the direction of the novel. But eventually Henry’s initial hostility and anger begins to soften and he finds himself slowly drawn towards Maria. Her passion and fiery vitality are a marked contrast to his reserved and uptight nature. Henry also endears himself to Diego.

The main stumbling block to a happy ending seems to be Maria’s jealous and hot tempered ex Antonio (Horacio Garcia Rojas), a failed and frustrated wannabe recording star.

It’s not hard to see where the script from writer David Quantick (better known for his work on TV series like The Thick Of It and Veep) and director Analeine Cal y Mayor is headed. This is another romantic comedy about how opposites attract, combined with the usual tropes of the road journey. But it also explores the clash of cultures, communication and language barriers, the problem with stereotyping, and the creative process. Much of the film was filmed on location in Chiapas, and has been nicely shot by cinematographer Gerardo Barroso, giving a strong sense of place.

Many of the characters here are cardboard stereotypes, especially the gay Mexican publisher Pedro (played in flamboyant style by Horacio Villalobos) and the macho Antonio. However, Echegui (from the TV series Fortitude) keeps the audience engaged with her fiery and passionate performance creating a layered character, while Claflin (Enola Holmes), largely cast against type, deftly essays the transformation of Henry from bland, sexually repressed and clueless into a warmer and more empathetic character.

Driven by a thin premise that it can’t really sustain for its 106 minute duration, Book of Love is a largely unoriginal and mediocre romantic comedy that reminds us that we have seen much better and wittier examples of this sort of thing.

Greg King

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