Review: Opposites attract in far-fetched romantic comedy ‘Book of Love’
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Despite being often preposterous, the cross-cultural comedy “Book of Love” is an entertaining watch. Just don’t scratch even the slightest bit beneath its glossy, super-contrived surface.
The movie’s pie-in-the-sky setup: Hangdog author Henry Copper (Sam Claflin) has sold his poorly written, dishwater-dull romantic novel, “The Sensible Heart,” to a traditional publisher (one seemingly without an ounce of selectivity — or an editing staff). He discovers that, though bookstores in his native England can’t give the tome away, it’s become a buzzy bestseller in Mexico since being translated into Spanish. That Henry had no idea there was a new version floating around, much less that it blew up across the pond, is just one of many improbabilities in the peppy script by director Analeine Cal y Mayor and David Quantick. (They turn Henry into a social media ghost to explain his obliviousness, but it’s another stretch.)
Before Henry knows it, he’s on a plane to Mexico for a quick publicity tour set by local publisher Pedro (Horacio Villalobos). And he’s coupled with his novel’s translator, hard-working single mom and aspiring author Maria (Verónica Echegui), for a series of Q&As and TV interviews. There’s just one curveball: Unbeknownst to Henry, Maria has completely rewritten “The Sensible Heart” and turned the sexless book into a lusty, passion-filled romance that has set libidos racing nationwide. It’s a workable twist that gets plenty of lively mileage if you can pardon the broadness of its execution (and, again, that the now-apoplectic Henry was so in the dark about his work).
The film continues to eschew logic for jerry-rigged conflict — and its resultant comedy — as Henry, Maria and Pedro, plus Maria’s sweet young son Diego (Ruy Gaytan) and her kindly grandpa Max (Fernando Becerril), tool around the country crammed into Maria’s cherry-red Volkswagen Bug, meeting and greeting book fans in Mexico City and a host of other less likely publicity stops. (The movie was shot in Chiapas, Mexico’s largely rural, southernmost state.) Given the booming sales of “El Corazón Sensible,” this seems like a ridiculously DIY method of barnstorming, one replete with the inevitable flat tire.
The movie plays fast and loose with many of the excursion’s more practical elements, not to mention that, for a publisher, Pedro doesn’t seem to work a lot. (And honestly, isn’t his flamboyant character on-the-nose enough without giving him a table lamp made of stacked fruit and a Pride-rainbow feather duster? What, no Judy Garland poster?)
And yet we come to invest in Henry and Maria’s oil-and-water pairing thanks to the engaging work of the film’s nimble, expressive leads. Claflin (“Me Before You,” “Love Wedding Repeat”), who endearingly evokes the love child of Hugh Grant and Steve Coogan, credibly climbs out of his clueless character’s protective shell. The Madrid-born Echegui brings an effective mix of steel, savvy and sincerity to a role that can feel both modern and retro. The stars’ nicely modulated chemistry, especially when they’re asked to collaborate on a new novel, makes Henry and Maria’s trope-heavy journey work better than it should.
As Antonio, Maria’s sexy ex (and Diego’s dad) who suddenly wants his woman back, Horacio García Rojas’ open-shirted, ponytailed musician proves a vivid counterpoint to Claflin’s buttoned-up, would-be man of letters. Unfortunately, Antonio’s side of the love triangle is a rickety one — Maria has clearly moved on — so his inclusion feels like more of a device than a credible obstacle.
The always welcome Lucy Punch (“Bad Teacher,” “Into the Woods”) plays Jen, Henry’s fast-talking London publisher representative. Like much else here, Jen exists in a kind of alternate universe, one more designed to serve the needs of the film’s far-fetched script than to provide authentic enlightenment about the literary scene (you have never seen a book brought to market so fast!), finding romance or following a dream.
Still, who couldn’t use a little amusing, energetic fluff these days as a passing tonic to the real world around us?
'Book of Love'
In English and Spanish, with English subtitles.
Running time: 1 hour, 46 minutes.
Playing: Available Feb. 4 on Amazon Prime Video
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