FILM REVIEW: is 'Book Week' Better Left on the Shelf?
This review should be a positive one. Book Week, written, directed and produced by Heath Davis, seems to be made for me. An independent Australian film set in the Blue Mountains? That’s three of my boxes ticked already.
The film centres on Nicholas Cutler (Alan Dukes), an English teacher and struggling writer, and is set during his school’s annual Book Week. That’s three more ticks. Book Week is a bibliophile’s dream on paper; it even quotes famous authors at the beginning of each of its ‘chapter’. But I did not enjoy this film whatsoever and that is largely due to Cutler himself.
The film is, of course, not to be lambasted for centring on an unlikable character. Many great films have done just that. But it should be lambasted for believing that un-likeability is a substitute for original or interesting. Cutler is an anti-hero in the dullest and most neutered form; a misanthrope who drinks at strip clubs, sleeps around and fears commitment. The film seems intent on framing Cutler him as troubled yet endearing, but shows us nothing but a dull cynic.
Liking Cutler also seems to be a prerequisite for being a good person in this film. The surrounding (largely female) characters who do not find him amusing and/or loveable are apparently either stupid or jealous. The former applies to Cutler’s potential book publishers who want to make his new novel about vampires because that’s what’s ‘trending’. The latter applies to a budding young author (the only student in the whole school who actually seems interested in books,) who is portrayed as an entitled, foul-mouthed suck-up. These millennial stereotypes are clearly meant to reinforce the appeal of Cutler’s old-fashioned ‘charm’. They don’t. In fact, listening to him whinge about e-books and Facebooks is like being cornered at Christmas by your least-favourite uncle.
This film isn’t entirely without merit. The Blue Mountain community is captured well enough; there is a lazy, suburban feel and the occasional peek at some stunning scenery. The cinematography is strong in certain moments. Many actors do decent work with characters as flat at the page they’re written on. Honestly, I wish I could say more.
Book Week could be forgiven if it did something of interest with its uninteresting central character. After we are forced to spend an obscene amount of time in the company of this bore, we do finally get to witness Cutler feel sad for a moment. Then the film jumps to ‘one year later’. We see him wearing a powder blue V-neck. He is smiling. He is nice to someone he was previously not nice to. This is, apparently, redemption. And the film ends.
I really wanted it to be good. It’s not.