If I’m honest, there was an almost natural pushback within me to the trailer for Amazon Studio’s romantic comedy “Book of Love”. The biggest reason was its remarkably hokey concept. Also, the film stars Sam Claflin. Now don’t get me wrong, I actually like Claflin quite a bit. But I’m not sure rom-coms are his cup of tea. The last time he tried one was 2020’s “Love Wedding Repeat”. Talk about an abysmal watch.
First and foremost, “Book of Love” isn’t “Love Wedding Repeat” level bad. Nowhere close really. But it is another movie that leans heavily on Claflin’s awkward charm which works well until the story spirals into full-blown Hallmark Channel schmaltz. By the end it’s just too ridiculous and glaringly conventional. It becomes hard to see it as anything other than a tired old rehash of countless other films.
Claflin plays a British author named Henry Copper. He just published his new book “The Sensible Heart”, but sales have been abysmal and he can’t even fill a few chairs at his free bookstore publicity readings. And it’s never good when your book winds up on a “Buy 1 Take 3” clearance only a few weeks after its release.
One day his London-based publisher, Jen Spencer (Lucy Punch) stuns Henry with news that “The Sensible Heart” is a #1 best seller……in Mexico. A bewildered and reluctant Henry is sent to Mexico to promote the book. There he meets the book’s translator Maria Rodríguez (Verónica Echegui). She’s a hardworking single mother with a deadbeat ex-husband (Horacio Garcia Rojas) who offers little to help take care of their young son Diego (Ruy Gaytan) and her 80-year-old grandfather (Fernando Becerril). Maria is an aspiring author, but neither her busy life or the patriarchal structure gives her much of a chance.
When Henry arrives, he shocked by the starstruck public who flock to see him. He meets Maria who agrees to translate for him during interviews. But over time he learns that Maria did more than just translate his book to Spanish. She rewrote it, turning “The Sensible Heart” into a steamy telenovela. For obvious reasons this sets off the more chaste-minded Henry. But his Mexican publisher (Horacio Villalobos) convinces him and Maria to carry on with the ruse. That way everyone can make some money rather than start a controversy that would see the book die a slow and unprofitable death.
And so begins their whistlestop tour across scenic Mexico. Henry and Maria start off at odds but with each stop grow a little closer (didn’t see that coming, did you?). There are obvious reasons for the two to part ways, but the story (written by David Quantick and Analeine Cal y Mayor) always finds ways to keep them together. Some you can buy; some are just too silly. And of course as the inevitable romance blooms, the deadbeat husband finds a way into the story leading to a big ending so incredibly dumb that it makes the early stuff seem smart and savvy by comparison.
There are hints of a more clever cross-culture rom-com in “Book of Love”, but they’re only hints. The movie starts with a goofy concept, sputters to make it interesting, stalls in building a good romance, and flies off the rails in its attempts at putting together a big ending. And while it’s not a particularly hard movie to sit through, it’s hard to imagine ever having the urge to sit through it again. “Book of Love” is streaming now on Amazon Prime.