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Henry (Jason Sudeikis) is an introverted architect with a big day on his plate, trying to close a deal that could mean some major changes in his life. His playful wife is Penny (Jessica Biel), a denim-overalls-wearing, Kung-fu movie-loving sprite, eight months pregnant, highly-motivated and encouraging, the kind of woman that throws away brown loafers for magenta running shows, and demanding Henry “Be Bold.” She is the love of his life, even though he hardly has time to be with her, making promises that ‘someday’ they will have the dreams them desire.
No spoiler, when she is killed in a car accident, Henry slips into depression, crushed by her loss, but soon decides to take on the last promise he made to Penny, to look after a teenaged homeless girl (Maisie Williams) who picks through the trash in the neighborhood. The two form a fast bond and he learns that she wants to follow in her father’s footsteps and set sail on an adventure. With Henry’s skills, and the help of some renovators who were working on the house, they decide to build a raft, and in the process, learn to overcome.
Directed by Bill Purple, The Book Of Love is if anything, rigidly devoted to its premise, in for the win so to speak in trying to tug every conceivable heartstring it can get its mitts on. From the opening maudlin wallowing in romantic clichés to the seemingly endless contrived sequences that follow, there’s barely a single honest moment in the film, each frame straining to milk as much emotional wallop as it can, yet is, at every turn, a vapid, empty and dull experience. Characters are broad generalizations while the plot is far too overblown and obvious to be taken seriously. With the talent behind the movie, it’s too bad it couldn’t have been toned down and given a more realistic approach.
Most of the problem, once we get over the ridiculous storyline, is the dialogue and acting. Williams is distracting throughout, speaking in a kind of street sassy New Orleans accent that she can’t keep even, but that’s not even half the issue since her character is absurdly drawn and painfully predictable. She even has a ‘care-taker’ who is of course, abusive, not above smacking her around, and is about as deep as a thimble. Worse though, she performs these occasional bits of narration that are meant to be heavy observations of what is happening, but are instead lifeless, cringe-worthy readings that drain any investment. The usually great Mary Steenbergen also shows up in an underwhelming role that wastes her talents.
But this pales in comparison to the tone, with the ‘humor’ especially one misstep after another, punctuated by a shamelessly sentimental score by Justin Timberlake (Biel’s husband). Sudeikis is a talented actor, and seems ready to go dramatic (his work in 2015’s Tumbledown is proof enough of that), but here it’s hard to watch him trying to play it serious, with a number of uncomfortable moments that really strain credibility. He winces and grimaces with no hint of real remorse and the script has him doing one ridiculous thing after another. It gets to the point where you wonder if this is intentionally off-putting, as if it’s some kind of inside joke on the genre, but alas, even if that were true, it fails.
The Book Of Love wants to be a powerful statement about love and loss, redemption and rebirth, but is instead an irrepressibly gushy film that is a sugary-sweet mess with a stale story and predictable character. This is one book that should have gotten a rewrite.
Movie description: The Book Of Love is a 2017 drama about a man who helps a troubled teen to build a raft and sail the open sea after the tragic loss of his wife.
Director(s): Bill Purple
Actor(s): Jason Sudeikis, Maisie Williams, Jessica Biel