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Book of Love

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What a wig! Imagine the story Pedro Almodovar could come up with for these two.

Synopsis:  English author embarks on a Mexico book tour with the translator who re-wrote his book. (Streaming on Amazon Prime as of September 2022)

Dramatic love stories need two people who we want to see get together and an obstacle to happily ever after. Think Doctor Zhivago (lovers face the Russian Revolution) or Brokeback Mountain (threat of violence from homophobic society). Romantic comedies’ ingredients are basically the same, but offer us laughter instead of tears. And while drama demands lovers kept apart by heavy obstacles, something as simple as competing egos can work in a rom-com if we really want to see two people together.

Book of Love’s premise puts together two writers — a man from England and a woman from Mexico– who have differing sensibilities. Sam Claflin’s Henry Copper has written “The Sensible Heart,” a book that recommends ‘practical’ love and maintains that passion is unnecessary. Sounds like more of a self-help book than a novel, but okay.

Sadly, Henry’s book hasn’t caught on in the UK, but his publicist Jen (Lucy  Punch) tells him that the title is number one in Mexico. For some reason, the filmmakers have Brit Lucy Punch play her part as an American. Maybe so-candid-it-hurts seems like more of an American personality trait. Idk, but the production should’ve paid a few pounds for someone to work on her cringey American  accent. (I mean, I think she lives in LA!)  Moving on…

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Dios Mio! Is that a ‘lips’ sofa? If so, that’s another reason to keep foreplaying.

Claflin does well with the cliche of a buttoned up, fumbling Englishman. He actually makes his Henry relatable when he’s sad and longing. One unintentionally funny conceit is that the character, a well-spoken chap, has seemingly missed the boat with opportunities to mingle and snog. But strapping and handsome Sam Claflin is playing this guy, so it stretches credulity that plenty of straight women and gay men wouldn’t have been sniffing around him for the past twenty years. Maybe he was living on an isolated island until recently relocating to London??

Bumbling or not, he is sent off on a three-city book tour to Mexico where the translator of his book, Maria Rodriguez (Veronica Echegui) will serve as his chauffeur, guide and translator. He doesn’t speak Spanish, so she’ll be by his side at talk shows. In addition, he doesn’t even use social media, but he does weakly offer to his publicist that he has a LinkedIn. Henry needs to up his game fast.

Chuffed to have some success, he arrives in Mexico where he is surprised to see a poster at the airport of his “El Corazon Sensible” with a racy cover: two lovers in a steamy embrace with their clothes falling off.

Some info on the translator Maria…. She is a capable, forthright single mom of an elementary school aged son, Diego (Ruy Gaytan). She works at a bar to make ends meet, her dad (Fernando Becerril as Max) helps with childcare, and her ex does not.

Her smarmy ex, Antonio  (Horacio Garcia Rojas) has just begged off on caring for their son for the week because he has booked a singing gig. He gives the kid a toy and makes a quick exit. Maria decides, convolutedly, that it would make more sense to drag the elderly grandpa and the kid around Mexico than have them comfortably stay in her apartment. So, she jams abuelo, his geriatric medications and little Diego into her VW Beetle and sets off to get Henry from the airport and commence the book tour.

The usually clueless Henry catches on that something is not right when women in a studio audience start sending hot and heavy vibes his way. Maria fesses up that she spiced up the text–well, mostly re-wrote it. Henry is aghast. He gets all Puritanical and sputters that she has written “filth.” Okay, calmate, Reverend Prude. Maria rolls her eyes and says his book was boring.  This will be a running gag. Later, he tries to explain that the book represents years of contemplation and writing labor. She rolls her eyes, says sorry, not sorry: It was boring.

One night, at a hotel, after a day of promoting the book, the two take a walk and she tells Henry her philosophy is that the sex is what’s important between lovers because love is a dream that lets you down. Henry listens, starts to relax a bit and shows a refreshing lack of machismo. He flinches when he hears what he thinks are “Mexican lions.” I could imagine Harry Styles reacting the same way. Maria reassures Henry that they are monkeys calling.

So, things seem to be going well between the two while the company of granddad, son and a Mexico-based publicist keep the two apart, carnally speaking. What could go wrong? Well, there might be an ex waiting in the wings.  Or Henry might go into culture shock what with the disconcerting primacy of the sun in the sky and experiencing real Mexican food that is decidedly not the UK’s version of Mexican fare. Or Maria’s eyes might get stuck when she rolls them at Henry for the hundredth time. Instead, there is an obstacle which is –no spoilers– pettiness presented as principled.

Heading back to the start– do we want to see the couple together? Unfortunately, the actors have little chemistry. What’s worse is that Maria’s character trait of feistiness (I guess that’s what they were going for), is demonstrated solely by continually insulting Henry, whose worse crime is that she had to spend time looking at his boring book. After one book event, when women queue up to tell him he seems charming, she mistranslates their remarks into insults. Time for the viewer to roll their eyes.

Movie Loon Movie Review Shortcut:

Grade:   C-

Cut to the Chase:  Gorgeous Mexican landscapes and some jokes that land. But superficial character development and an unevenly written script make the production flounder. Still, I kinda liked it.

Humor Highlight:  Henry tries to communicate with young Diego using his very basic Spanish.

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