Anyone who has seen The Hunger Games will know just how much charisma Sam Claflin has. He was perfect as Finnick Odair, and excellent in romantic movies like Love, Rosie and Me Before You, though the latter had a mixed reception due to the subject matter. In Book of Love, however, Claflin is playing against type, as a bumbling, repressed author named Henry, who’s written the most boring book about love. Because of that, Claflin isn’t allowed to play to his strengths, and the movie loses a bit of that spark and chemistry needed for rom-coms to work.
Henry’s book The Sensible Heart is dead in the water – no one’s buying it or showing up to book readings, and everyone’s encouraging him to move on and do something else. But then, in a meeting with his publisher, he discovers that his book has become a bestseller in Mexico. To leverage this traction, a book tour in Mexico is immediately arranged, and Henry is encouraged to create social media accounts to engage with his book fans. Upon arriving in Mexico, and meeting the translator of his book, the lovely Maria (Verónica Echegui), he soon realises that she’s done more than simply translate: his dreary book has become an erotic novel.
Henry’s reaction brings up interesting insights into how we view romantic novels, where sex and desire is dismissed as pornographic or filth. Also, is there space for the literary novel in our current society, where publishers want books that can sell and authors with a roaring fanbase? Maria isn’t the happiest of campers as well, since she basically wrote the book but will get none of the credit nor the money that comes with being a best-selling author.
With the intervention of Mexican publisher Pedro (Horacio Villalobos), the two arrive at an impasse, since it would be in both their best interests to work together to sell the book instead of reveal the truth and face a scandal. With Maria’s son and grandfather along for the trip, Henry gets to spend time and bond with them. He and Maria also become more friendly with each other, and the inevitable sparks begin to fly.
We’ve seen films like this before, with the same, exact character archetypes. He’s vanilla, she’s spice, she comes in and colours his world. This isn’t necessarily an issue, but with Claflin’s charisma in shackles, it’s difficult to root for this pairing. I mean, the man is so repressed he usually finds it difficult to speak to women, and the closest relationship he’s ever had with a woman is with his mom. And yet, he’s also maybe a sex god? We can’t say there’s no cake and still manage to eat it. What does she find attractive about him, and vice versa? They’re both attractive, but for a romance to work we need more than just two good looking people on screen together.
Book of Love is absolutely funny in parts. All the shenanigans from the fans had me laughing out loud, and I love how passionate and committed they are. The bilingual aspect of the film is also pretty great. As it wore on, Henry made more of an effort to greet her in Spanish, even when she spoke to him in English, which is definitely romantic and sweet.
I didn’t like the ex-husband conflict, and it felt thrown in as a way to add some telenovela elements to the film. It’s a shame, as Book of Love had a lot of promise — the romance just needed better bones.
Review screener provided.
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