Monday, August 4, 2014

Book of Love (1990)

Crutch, the weirdest thing just happened to me. This, this girl offered me hot sex for a dollar.
"Why didn't you come and get me?"
"Crutch, she was just like, nine years old."
"So what, my cocker spaniel's only five!"

The Story:

Jack Twiller (Michael McKean) is on the verge of a divorce; however, when he gets a phone call from an old friend, he’s prompted to take his old yearbook off the shelf and reminisce on his childhood. He specifically goes back to the 50s, when he moved to a new town, where he was sure he was going to get his ass kicked just for being new. Instead, he instantly met Crutch (Keith Coogan), another neighborhood kid, who introduced him to Spider (Danny Nucci) and Floyd (John Cameron Mitchell); together, the friends go went high school, having plenty of fun along the way, while also learning some tough life lessons--mostly about love. 

The Review:

New Line Cinema head honcho Bob Shaye stepped behind the camera to direct this nostalgic coming-of-age tale. The tendency to reflect back on long-gone decades has been seen in this sub-genre plenty of times before, and Book of Love is rather effective at capturing that sense of innocent naivety that accompanies youth. It’s also a film that knows that boys will be boys, so it dedicates a lot of time to their antics before lightly handling the more heavy thematic material. At the center of these antics is the pursuit of girls, so they dig into the usual bag of tricks to try to lure them in: they try to get a car (probably the second most popular teen pursuit) and throw parties, usually to little avail. It’s not that these guys are hopeless--they just might be making the mistake that so many guys in these movies make: they aim way out of their league and also happen to come in conflict with the town’s gang of greasers, headed by Angelo Gabooch (Beau Dremann).

In fact, all of these guys are quite likeable. Jack is the good guy who would give the world to the girl of his dreams; the bespectacled Crutch is sort of nerdy, but obviously well-intentioned. Floyd is a really suave guy who has all the mothers convinced that he’s a good influence; however, when no one’s looking, he’s the first to break out the booze. The outrageous clown of the group is Spider, who sells porno cartoons and even lets guys peep in on his sister. And this is not to mention what he’s compelled to do in the middle of English class when they’re reading about sperm whales in Moby Dick. It’s a great core group of characters who have great chemistry together, and as time passes, you gather that these guys would go to war with each other, which is a key component in a film like this.

I also like how the film treats Jack’s younger brother, Meatball; though he’s probably only 10 or 11, he’s basically one of the boys. He’s already learned the value of chicks, so he’s allowed to booze it up and even attend burlesque shows at the local carnival. There’s something especially charming about an interaction he has with one of the dancers that you can’t help but smile at; really, we grow up more than once in life, and the film is aware of this because we see Meatball coming into his own just as the older guys are moving on and are (supposedly) growing up.

You’ll probably find yourself smiling a lot at Book of Love; there’s a certain sweetness and warmness to these nostalgia pictures that work regardless of when you grew up. Shaye’s production captures the 50s well, as it’s loaded with tunes from the era from the likes of Ben E. King, Bo Diddley, and Little Richard. Visually, the film hits all of the visual hallmarks to recreate a Rockwellian portrait of 50s America. It also features television programs and films of the era; for example, the boys see a James Dean double feature that inspires Jack to impersonate the great teen idol to humorous effect. The direction is often quite stylish as well, as Shaye uses humorous interludes where Jack’s imagination runs wild, and he sees himself being talked to by pin-up models and fitness gurus that accentuate the humor of the situation.

Of course, a coming-of-age film always has more serious matters rumbling in the distance; Shaye brings a light touch instead of a heavy hand here, as we know that Jack has to deal with important matters (like what he’s going to do after he graduates)--but he’d rather deal with prom first. He has his own dreams that differ from what his parents and school counselor see for him, and we actually get to see what happens to those dreams. By book-ending the film with the present day, Shaye actually makes the past all the more distant and desirable for its main character. By the end, we know that he learned some pretty important lessons in life when he was younger; for example, there’s the harsh realization that it seems like girls only like guys who are pricks. But he also learns that sometimes you don’t really want what you thought you wanted from life; but, more importantly, it’s also never too late to let the good times roll and to write a new chapter in the book of love. (Brett G.)

Tale of the Tape:

8 out of a possible 10 inches.
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