Cloyingly sentimental and annoyingly whimsical, director Bill Purple’s The Book of Love is one of those movies that all-too-neatly tries to turn grief into personal growth at the audience’s expense. It’s a diabetically sappy big-screen self-help seminar that should have been titled The Book of Schmaltz.
The usually likable SNL alum Jason Sudeikis plays a career-minded New Orleans architect whose regimented life is upended when his pregnant wife (Jessica Biel) dies in a car accident. It’s a shame, not just for Henry, obviously, but also for us, since Biel — seen mostly in gauzy, sun-dappled flashbacks — is easily the best thing in the movie. Mired in depression, Henry befriends Millie, a local teenage ragamuffin (Game of Thrones’ Maisie Williams, with an unfortunate N’awlins accent) who’s scrounging through garbage with her dog Ahab to build a Kon-Tiki-like raft to sail across the Atlantic as a carpe diem expression of her own personal loss (in this case, the death of her adventurer father).
Can these two lost souls bond and find some sort of emotional balm as they construct their jerry-rigged boat made out of flotsam and dreams? Go ahead, take a stab. With an ace supporting cast that includes Mary Steenburgen, Paul Reiser, and Orlando Jones, and some surprisingly treacly music from Justin Timberlake, The Book of Love isn’t nearly as heartwarming as it both wants to be and really should be. C