Book of Love review – charmless romcom is a waste of potential | Romance films


Ever since it was insisted that Netflix had single-handledly resurrected the romantic comedy despite the general hideousness of the romcoms they were releasing, streamers have churned them out by the dozen, quality be damned.

As Valentine’s Day looms, with Netflix still basking in the success of last month’s The Royal Treatment, the next week will see the teen sequel Tall Girl 2 and Turkish offering Love Tactics also added to its catalogue. At the same time, Amazon will launch the Jenny Slate-Charlie Day comedy I Want You Back and Universal will give Marry Me, J-Lo’s glossy return to the genre, a hybrid cinema-Peacock launch. It’s a theoretical feast for fans, but here’s naively hoping that they’re a damn sight better than this week’s misfiring trifle Book of Love (dropping on Amazon in the US and on Sky in the UK), a colourless background watch that never once attempts to make itself worthy of more focused attention.

It’s a shame, as there’s a decent enough set-up. Henry (Sam Claflin) is an uptight British writer whose latest book, The Sensible Heart – a sexless and meek romance novel appealing to precisely no one – has flopped in his homeland. But he’s encouraged to hear from his agent (Lucy Punch, bizarrely sporting an American accent) that it’s been a hit in Mexico and so he’s sent on a book tour, partnered with Maria (Verónica Echegui), the woman who translated his work. It soon transpires though that Maria did more than just translate – she virtually rewrote it, adding the heat and eroticism his original failed to include. The two then go from sparring partners to lovers but without the necessary legwork to make us believe a lick of it.

Hailing from BuzzFeed studios (which means that the site already features an article declaring it “one of the best romcoms” based solely on the trailer) but co-scripted by novelist and Veep writer David Quantick, Book of Love arrives with a strange mismatched pedigree. But the end result features none of the poppy vim of the former or the sharp wit of the latter. It is a flatly directed and utterly, aggressively un-engaging piece of fluff that only serves to remind us of other, better and more picturesque examples of the travelogue romantic comedy (save yourself and rewatch Only You, French Kiss or Two for the Road instead). There’s certainly nothing wrong with sticking to the familiar genre beats we all know so well, but there needs to be a light-footed charm ushering us from one to the next, and director Analeine Cal y Mayor fails to muster up even a shred of it.

While Claflin sticks to a lazily traced-over impression of the buttoned-up romcom Englishman archetype, there is at least some energy from the other side as Echegui tries hard to make her single mother turned wannabe novelist into a real human being. She’s easily the best thing here and one wonders what a film centered around her slightly more textured character might have been, unshackled from the rote machinations that push her into a hard-to-stomach romance with a mostly unlikable lead. The script forces them together far too fast, all tension melting despite a stark dearth of chemistry, and clumsy last-act attempts at conflict feel minor and haphazard. Romantic comedies are expected to be contrived and far-fetched – it’s a genre that allows for a lot of exceptions – but they really shouldn’t be this dull.

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