SCREENED AT THE 2004 SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL: Whatís worse when youíre watching a movie? Not knowing what purpose the filmmaker was trying to get across or a purpose that is so whacked that itís impossible to take seriously? I didnít know what I was thinking during Alan Brownís Book of Love except how the drama is so thick with a contrived laughability that your only recourse is to start believing that youíre watching a comedy. Then you start looking at your neighbor to see if theyíre laughing and if he or she is its usually coupled with a headshake and a hand over their forehead.Hereís your setup: Elaine (Frances OíConnor) and David (Simon Baker) are a nice, attractive married couple. Affection is still there for both of them but we can sense they are headed into that level of marriage known as contentment. We know this basically because they arenít going at it like rabbits on the night of the apocalypse. Chet (Gregory Smith) is a 15-year old at a nearby high school who apparently does nothing but swim, get picked on and work at the ice cream shop.
One night Elaine and David walk in and strike up a conversation with the young lad consisting mostly of ďguess our agesĒ like he was a carnival barker whose prize was free dessert. For whatever creepy reason, Elaine looks Chet up and down like he was Brad Pitt instead of the skinny, barely out-of-pubescence kid that he is. Even more creepy considering the subtext of how Elaine has already told us that sheís not ready to have a child. Unless heís about 15.
The couple immediately take Chet into their lives like some kind of surrogate child, inviting him out for a night on the karaoke town with their lesbian friends, to their house for dinner and even promising to take him to Disney World. Iíd love to see that commercial spot, since once youíve just committed statutory rape what are you going to do now?
Oh, have I jumped ahead? What the hell. Yes, Chet and Elaine jump each otherís bones almost never acknowledging the age factor, only the adultery factor which leads her to immediately tell poor hubby. David, meanwhile, has been privy to the crush of one of his students at the all-girls school he teaches the history of the Khmer Rouge to. But not a single element of any of this is more fascinating then how Davidís classroom is stuck with the worldís most ineffective blackboard eraser in history.
Thatís the kind of thing I was thinking about during Book of Love, which continues to fly in the face of anything resembling a plausible situation or emotion (save for Davidís one true reaction at work to the bad news.) Just once itíd be nice for one of their friends to ask why the couple is hanging around with this kid. Or someone to tell the filmmakers that bad symbolism sticks out even more when the drama is unconvincing. Oooh, David and Elaine sit in their respective cars while its raining. Her wipers are going, his face is blurred by the raindrops. Itís amazing that B.J. Thomas isnít heard on the soundtrack. After David is asked to be a sperm donor for the lesbian baby, we cut to a shot of a spouting lawn sprinkler. Subtle.ďDoes the grammar really matter as long as you get the idea right,Ē asks one character? My answer would be ABSOLUTELY especially when the idea is all over the map. You can get credit for something, but Book of Love is beyond even that. OíConnor has been an actress Iíve respected for awhile now, but between this and Timeline I just donít know anymore. Maybe she can endlessly twirl herself at the end of this film into a good role. Itís only part of an inexplicable epilogue where one character ends up with another (whom heís never met in the course of the film) in CAMBODIA only to discover that there are still some land mines out there. Itís only a shame they werenít standing on it holding Book of Loveís script when it went off.