By Brandon Kratkoczki
The Book of Love is, more than any other descriptor that could be applied to a film, an indie film. Not just in the sense that it was independently produced by a smaller studio and its handy people; no, faithful readers, this is an indie movie with a capital I. A troubled, stone-faced white guy with an eccentric career, who had a quirky manic-pixie-such-and-such that has recently passed away, learns a generic thing or two about this grand ‘ol life thing that we’re all a-livin’ on from an unexpected source, a source that always stays shockingly screen-ready and charismatic. Of course, this is accompanied by a budget Forrest Gump voice over from said unexpected source. I felt like Zach Braff was off-set by only a few feet, pulling the strings of a first time director whose only film exposure has been Garden State and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.
At the screening, we were told that this screenplay had come from the infamous Hollywood “blacklist,” where films that studios don’t want to produce are destined to fester in “what if’s.” Oftentimes, scripts end up there when they have, however good, extremely out-there ideas that would normally not go over well with the general public. Did no one have the courage to tell these blacklist diggers that the reason this particular screenplay was placed there was to save face for its author? This screenplay is packed to the brim with lazy, obvious writing and Chicken Soup for the Soul excerpts. When the script isn’t lazy in its obviousness, it’s lazy in its stealing components from other, better movies and performers. For example, there’s one character whose name is directly inspired by a Bill Cosby standup joke from his most well known special. And that’s not even mentioning the generic, erratic plot.
The script seems to be a vessel for revelation after cheesy revelation, rather than being anywhere near concerned with, well, telling a compelling and natural story. Effectively, architect Jason Sudeikis (mind you, there wasn’t a performance in the film apart from that of the wonderful and charming Richard Robichaux that was distinctive enough to warrant me calling them by their character names) has his wife Jessica Biel, whose hobbies include throwing out her husband’s nice brown loafers in exchange for loud purple sneakers, which are taken from him in a freak, yet bizarrely ethereally shot car accident. Instead of being an insightful look into grief and rebuilding one’s life in an unconventional setting (the architecture parallels are right there, people!), we get Maisie Williams, a homeless girl who is seemingly isolated from the rest of the situation around her because she misses her Game of Thrones checks on the off-season. The bizarre cartoon characters include a pothead, a bumbling Creole worker, and the coldest mother figure this side of Narnia. Maisie is trying to build a raft to go out onto the ocean so that she can complete the journey her dead father never could. This will, of course, be accomplished through an assumedly out-of-school 16 year old girl, Lenny and Carl from The Simpsons, and the mentally unstable “what’s up with that” guy. Lovely and inspiring.
While I was sitting in the cathedral theater, I couldn’t shake the feeling that we have reached indie festival movie saturation with this picture. It’s an amalgamation of the cheese that has been being pasteurized for the past several years. In 2016, Jessica Biel is stomping skulls in with her purple sneakers, architect Jason Sudeikis is building mausoleums filled with the rotted corpses of Sundance laureates, and Maisie Williams is fading into the background, wide eyed and desperate, holding onto the last tired character trait she can before HBO’s sweet siren song calls again. But a different siren screams out instead, a siren so loud and piercing that human beings are seemingly falling through the sidewalk they walk on. Only some of this hell song is decipherable: “Inspirational.” “Heartfelt.” “An escape from blockbusters.” Almost as soon as this sound appears, it is gone. All falls silent on the streets of this film’s New Orleans, or real life’s Genericville, Kentucky. Never has a cathedral felt more antagonistic.