Not the Book-y-wook of Boba Fett dating jawas, but a rare straight-up, old-school rom-com for home viewing by consensual couples and romantics-at-heart over Valentine’s Day, writer/director Analeine Cal y Mayor’s film drops onto Amazon Prime in the US this week, then warms the cockles of fun-starved romantic couch-potatoes on Sky Cinema a week later in the UK. The plot is very familiar; a stuffy British writer falls for a glamorous Mexican translator, and initial antagonism gives way to a whirlwind romance. It’s boilerplate rom-com fodder, and yet with David Quantick (Brass Eye, The Thick of It, Veep) co-writing, there’s enough wit in the script and gusto in the central performances to please the target audience, despite some cheeseball moments.
Henry Copper (Sam Claflin) is first seen at a sparsely-attended promotional event for his dull new book The Sensible Heart. But Henry’s agent (Lucy Punch, always a welcome presence) has news for him; his book is a surprise number one bestseller in South America. Copper hits the promotional trail in Mexico, but it slowly dawns on him that his translator Maria (Verónica Echegui) has sexed up his original text, turning it into a tempestuous erotic fiction that’s the exact opposite of Henry’s enclosed world-view. Sparks fly, but as Maria teaches Henry to be a better version of himself, if not the ‘Shakespeare of Sex’ that his fans imagine, there’s malicious interference from her ex to overcome…
Sending up the 50 Shades phenomenon, The Book of Love manages to get a number of things right; there’s comedy value in the way that Henry’s stiff-upper lip is made to tremble by Maria’s route-one thinking, and it’s neat that her social media provides a false version of her in the same way that Henry’s book promotes a false version of him. There’s also a smart joke for Britophiles in the way that Henry Copper’s name is regularly and wrongly pronounced Henry Cooper, the name of a famous British boxer; this is a story of being misunderstood due to false expectations in advance. For once, the cast and crew seem to have actually gone to Mexico rather than been planted in front of studio-screens, and there’s a nice, unforced feel about the couple’s road trip. Echegui has good chemistry with Claflin, who manages to give his ‘buttoned-up cabbage’ enough diffident, awkward charm to give Hugh Grant a run for his money.
Unassuming, lightweight and cheerfully disposable, Book of Love harks back to the heyday of the rom-com in the 90’s, but even then, it was never easy to get the mix right, and this venture just about manages the trick, although there’s a few corny moments and stereotyped supporting characters that aren’t quite up to snuff. The humble rom-com has been a hard nut to crack of late, but with two fresh leads and a simple, pleasing story, this particular book should find plenty of enthusiastic readers over the 2022 festival of love.
The Book of Love hits Amazon Prime in the US from Feb 4th 2022, and Sky Cinema in the UK from Feb 12th. Thanks to Amazon Prime for advance access to this title.