Film Review: The Book of Love

The performers flounder in this ill-conceived, sappy drama.
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Can't movie characters grieve with dignity anymore? In the recent Demolition, Jake Gyllenhaal coped with his wife's death by literally taking apart everything he could put his hands on, including his house. And in Bill Purple's feature directorial debut, a distraught widower copes with his wife's death by befriending a homeless teen urchin and helping her to build a raft to sail out to sea. Whatever happened to good old-fashioned drinking yourself into a stupor?

The Book of Love stars Jason Sudeikis, making an unfortunate stab at stretching his dramatic chops, as Henry, an uptight New Orleans architect on the verge of his biggest career success with his design for an upscale New Orleans waterfront development. He's happily married to the very pregnant Penny (Jessica Biel), whose wacky free-spiritedness is signaled by her throwing out Henry's dress shoes and replacing them with bright purple sneakers. While most men in real life would be annoyed by this, Henry, who even before tragedy strikes seems to be walking around in a daze, takes it in stride.

Right after asking Henry to look out for the teenage girl who she's spotted going through their trash, Penny is killed in an auto accident. The girl turns out to be Millie (Maisie Williams of “Game of Thrones”), one of those only-in-the-movies figures who narrates the proceedings with such phrases as "My pa used to say that the most important thing to have with you on any journey is a compass." Presumably, she already knew that life was like a box of chocolates.

Ignoring the entreaties of both his stereotypically overbearing mother-in-law (Mary Steenburgen) and demanding boss (Paul Reiser), Henry neglects his personal and professional obligations and mopes around in a funk. That is, until he comes across Millie—who tells him that she's named "Oprah"—and forms a strange attachment to the foul-mouthed teen and her mangy mutt of a dog, named Ahab.

Inspired by the adventures of Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl, Millie wants to build a makeshift raft and sail to the Azores islands. So Henry, infused with a new sense of purpose, throws himself into the task, even tearing apart his own house for materials with the assistance of his friends "Dumbass" (Orlando Jones) and the unintelligible, Cajun-speaking Pascal (Richard Robichaux).

Its hoary storyline made even hoarier by melodramatic plot revelations in the final act, The Book of Love is one of those would-be inspiring fables of personal redemption that doesn't feel true for one…single…moment. The performances are equally ineffective. Williams and Biel, both employing thick, unconvincing accents, don't so much play real people as archetypes, with the latter, frequently seen in gauzy flashbacks and fantasy sequences, actually proving more annoying dead than alive. And Sudeikis mainly portrays Henry's grief by staring blankly into space, his character barely making an impression even after eating a plate of marijuana-laced stew (don't ask).

Although it's refreshing to encounter a New Orleans-set movie that doesn't set foot in the French Quarter, the film is strangely lacking any semblance of Southern atmosphere. Finally, there's the overemphatic musical score by Justin Timberlake (wonder how he got involved) that makes the music in daytime soap operas seem subtle by comparison.--The Hollywood Reporter

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