Film review: ‘THE BOOK OF LOVE’ by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

The Book of Love

With the amiable but often weirdly flat and unfunny culture clash rom com, The Book Of Love, Sam Claflin seems to be trying to grab Hugh Grant’s now vacant title as the resident charming, floppy-haired, bumbling Brit.  Unfortunately, a performance that’s often shouty, whiny and confused deprives him and the film overall of anything like Grant’s goofy charm.

The Book of Love plays a little like a mutant combination of the Colin Firth segment from Love Actually, where the dithering Englishman hooked up with a Spanish speaking woman while trying to write a novel and the Hugh Grant, Drew Barrymore romcom Words and Music where Grant was an amusingly ridiculous former boyband star who collaborated with the daffy and adorable Barrymore to write hit pop songs.

Here, Claflin plays novelist Henry Copper, a name that leads to the repeated and increasingly lame gag of people calling him Henry Cooper. He’s just released his latest book, ‘The Sensible Heart’ to scathing reviews and almost no public interest.  Surprisingly, though, the disastrously dull novel is a best seller in Mexico.  At the behest of his slightly crazed agent (Lucy Punch) he heads to Mexico for a book tour to try and cash in on the novel’s unexpected and downright mystifying success. It’s there he discovers that his guide and interpreter Maria (Veronica Echegui, who is the best thing about this film) also translated the book into Spanish and took enormous liberties with the story, turning it into a ‘50 Shades’-style sex romp that has titillated the book’s many Mexican fans.

We know exactly how this film will play out.  There’ll be initial resentment from Henry at Maria tampering with his art leading to iciness and squabbling between the attractive pair before the inevitable thawing of relations and bedroom manoeuvres.  Whether it’s the story’s predictability, the very obvious budget limitations on director Analeine Cal y Mayoror or the complete lack of chemistry between the two, the film doesn’t work as a romance.  Also, as a comedy it’s surprisingly lame, mostly relying on quirky behaviour and stereotypes such as the pompous uptight Brit, the passionate Latino and unsettlingly, the ostentatious gay man.

The intrusion into their romance of Maria’s layabout ex-husband (Horacio Garcia Rojas) has no sense of threat and the inevitable confrontation between he and Henry looks like actors mucking around between takes that they forgot to edit out of the film.

This is, for much of its running time, a road movie as Maria conveys Henry, along with her son and grandfather, around Mexico in her dilapidated Beetle.  Unfortunately, apart from a fleeting tour through the rural countryside, there’s very little sense of Mexico, it’s landscape, cities or culture.  Most of it could have been shot on a soundstage in London or even Melbourne.

A few moments of warmth and a reasonably spirited individual performance from Veronica Echegui just save this film from being a complete turkey.

Nick’s rating:   

Genre: Romantic comedy.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Analeine Cal y Mayoror.

Release date: 10th Mar 2022.

Running time: 106 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.

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