Title The Book of Love (originally titled The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea)
Starring Jason Sudeikis, Maisie Williams, Jessica Biel
Director Bill Purple
Written By Robbie Pickering and Bill Purple
Release Date January 13, 2017
Parental Guidance PG-13 for thematic content, language and drug materials
IMDB Rating 5.5
Synopsis: Henry is your average joe, his creativity only peeking out when he is off designing architecture for his real estate developer company, which is what he is brilliant at. The only thing that keeps his life from fading into the mundane is his oddball wife, Penny, whom he monikers hurricane. Penny tries to stamp her mark on Henry’s life by pushing him to do the eccentric things she lays out and simply “be bold!” Penny is expecting to deliver their first born in the coming month and he just gets an offer to be made partner at his office when Penny has a fatal road accident and Henry’s life is turned upside down. Recovery comes in the form of Millie, a homeless girl rummaging through his garbage. They interact over a cabinet he is ready to dispose of that she could use and she comments that the magenta sneakers he is wearing with his suit “is the shits”, which is what Penny had said to convince him to put them on the morning before she died, and he suddenly remembers that the last promise he had made to Penny was to help out the homeless girl who goes through their garbage. After a bit of harmless stalking, Henry discovers Millie is trying to build a raft to cross the Atlantic Ocean and he decides to dedicate all his time in helping her and in the process rediscovering his reason to go on.
Experience: Given the number of book-turned-movies playing at the cinemas these days, amazingly The Book of Love is not a book turned into movie. I walked into this movie without having seen the trailers or reading the synopsis, which in itself is very unusual for me. But I have always loved that Peter Gabriel song “The Book of Love” and find Jason Sudeikis one of the more versatile but underrated actors of Hollywood so it wasn’t difficult to hit the play button with so little nod to movie prerequisites. It turned out to be one of those uncalculated risks that provide the exact morale your life needs at the time.
While the plot was not something I would call riveting, the script has been very well written. Despite the lack of brief on its premise, I could pick up on the cues of what was about to come early on. The director cut straight to laying out who the lead characters are, that something was about to happen to render upheaval into this young couple’s lives. In fact, I could tell Penny (Jessica Biel) would die soon as she made Henry (Sudeikis) promise he would take care of the homeless girl if he meets her. I could also tell how much Henry doted on Penny by the way he gave in to her every whimsy regardless of the level of contrast they drew to his personality as well as work life (wearing the magenta sneakers with his suit to a major career altering meeting). I could smell the devastation brewing but not in the way that the end was given away. I did not feel like, oh! It’s just another movie about a guy getting over his wife’s death, I was intrigued by the idea of how… how will Millie (Maisie Williams) the homeless girl help him get over her death, how did he come to love her even? Obviously Millie is too young to be of romantic interest, which would have been just abhorrent so soon after Penny’s death.
The cinematography of the movie also sets the mood. The color scheme, mostly muted tones to set the atmosphere of loss with the only contrast allowed in the spaces of the house where Penny, who was also an artist, spent most of her time, like the kitchen or the bedroom. There is a lot of clutter everywhere that Henry goes, as though he needs to find a way to draw himself out of the rubble. The director used a lot of montages in the movie to pace the travel through time, both in flashbacks as well as how Henry’s life progresses. There are two junctures of the movie portraying the moments of changes in Henry’s life that really resonated with me. First, at the wake at the house, where everyone moves in slow motion, discussing the death matter-of-factly while Henry sits ignored until he really attempts to isolate himself. The other is when Julia (Mary Steenburgen), Penny’s mother triggers him into a panic attack when she pushes him into realizing that he might be having a breakdown as he risks his career to build a homeless girl build a raft to cross the Atlantics. Pivotal moments when Henry is both at his worst and his best because after each panic attack, he works out a puzzle, somehow left behind by Penny.
Which brings me to the overall theme of the movie. A bit of study online showed that the most highlighted quote from the movie is “Sometimes, things are better when they’re not perfect.” But I felt what defined the movie best was “Death ain’t about the people who died anyway. It’s about the ones who have the shit luck of having to go along without ‘em.” The central trope of the movie depicts how each character deals with Penny’s death. There is Henry, who after withdrawing into himself focuses his energy into fulfilling his last promise to Penny by helping Millie and thereby pushing further the moment when he must truly accept her absence in his life. There is Julia, who strives for control in Penny’s death just as she has during her life, and focuses on the minutest details involving the funeral, the obituary, charity, etc. as though it is just another responsibility she must take care of – clearly, her daughter leaving the world before her is a burden, especially given the guilt of never cherishing the time she had her. There’s Henry’s boss, Wendell (Paul Reiser) who lacks even the basic sense of empathy to put aside the company goals to allow Henry the time to grieve but you can also see how he is embarrassed by this lacking. There are even “Dumbass” (Orlando Jones) and Pascal (Richard Robichaux), the guys who were working on the renovation of the house and who were endeared by Penny who took care of them while they were around, who take it upon themselves to help Henry through his grief. Without revealing too much, in the end you get to see even Millie had a reason to deal with Penny’s death. But there is a likeness in the way both Henry (for Penny) and Millie (for her father) use fulfilling promises and the lost dreams to get over their own losses, which sort of answers the conundrum of the movie. I enjoyed how this theme remains consistently throughout the movie as each character’s arcs are developed.
When speaking of the characters, of course something must be said about the actors’ portrayals of them. First and foremost, I was thoroughly convinced by Sudeikis. Despite being a comic hero, he was able to invoke the tragedy Henry undergoes. In fact, I especially enjoyed the nuance he rendered the role with subtle moments of comic disaster he ends up in. Initially, I felt it a bit unbelievable that he could be propelled to fixate on the raft-building so soon after Penny’s death but his motivation came out to dispel that disbelief. Another actor I felt did a good job was Jones. He took what minimalist role he had and really bit into it. Williams, on the other hand, though played the other lead role, did not come into character until halfway through the movie. However, that might also be because her bayou drawl was a bit contrived and unnecessary even to the plot. Also, I could see how narration by Millie created bridges to allude to each segment of the movie, I did not really see why it had to be there. The only actor that really was the oddball was Biel’s. But while Penny the oddball was a necessary and endearing element, Biel was something the movie could have done without. Biel just did not have the ethereal quality that Penny needed to make her peculiarities blossom. In fact, Biel looked a bit haggard all through.
Recommendation: Again, if plots are dead important to you, I would suggest skip the movie. It is a bit whimsical yet ordinary, which the narrator warns of in the prologue of the movie. However, if you just like good character building, acting and enjoy a good script and direction, you will enjoy this movie like I did