Book Week is a poorly written, profoundly unfunny ‘black comedy’ that reinforces the tired and dated myth of the curmudgeonly man-child artist exempt from the standards applied to lesser beings.
I so wanted to like Book Week. It’s been a dismal year for our national film industry, and I did not relish the prospect of giving another thumbs-down to an Aussie release. I’d much rather bring glad tidings. But here we go again – Book Week is yet another Australian film that is ruined by inept screenwriting.
The big problem here is the lead character, Mr C (Alan Dukes).
An aspiring professional writer whose fading claim to fame is a novel published years ago, he approaches his job as a high school English teacher as a tiresome chore. There’s light on his horizon. A couple of publishers are sniffing around his second novel.
In the meantime, as a Talented Artist he thinks he’s a superior being with license to say and do as he wants, without regard to consequence or his effect on others. He’s rude, irreverent, drinks too much, is cynical and discouraging when a talented female student seeks feedback on her writing, conducts an uncommitted clandestine affair with another teacher who is in love with him…
In short, he’s a jerk. Fine, if he was funny with it – but he’s not.
The curmudgeonly man-child artist is, of course, a stock character, out of which many writers and filmmakers have made mileage in the past. But it takes real expertise, a fresh variation on the theme, to make this character type work in 2018. As he’s been written here, he’s musty, tired and dated, a boor and a bore.
Poor Alan Dale does his best with the role, but he’s up against it making anything of material like this.
Mr C does have one redeeming aspect to him: his supportive relationship with black migrant student Tyrell (Thuso Lekwape). Tyrell is rebellious and subversive, something of a kindred spirit. Unlike Mr C, he’s charming, spirited and hip, and a basketball champ. Oh, and a delinquent. As the only black student in the class, he’s a bit of a token inclusion, but it has to be said Lekwape shines in the part. Indeed, Tyrell’s about the only fresh element of the film.
The writing problems don’t stop with the Mr C character. Frankly, the script has the whiff of a first or second draft, with a narrative that has an extemporized feel about it. It runs around all over the place like a beheaded chicken, always orbiting around Mr C. He’s on screen almost the entire film. Not a plus.
Then there are the improbabilities.
Out celebrating positive news from his publishers, Mr C drunkenly cracks on to a hot, much younger woman. As if! Isn’t it time for filmmakers to quit reinforcing this Woodyesque young-woman-attracted-to much-older-arty-guy shite? Just so happens, she subsequently rocks up at school as his trainee teacher ferchrissake.
Just so happens, also, that when Tyrell is facing jail time, Mr C has a good mate serving a long stretch, who just so happens to be affable and decent and an all-round top bloke who promises to look after the youngster (what’s salt-of-the-earth like this doing in the clink?).
Then there’s the ending. Mr C doesn’t get any comeuppances. Instead, we’re served up a chucked-together and for me indigestible dish of happy-ever-after.
According to the promo material, Book Week was the “sold-out comedy hit of the recent Melbourne International Film Festival”. That’s depressing, because it means that the attendees bought into the myth of the artist that writer/director Heath Davis reinforces with apparent affection in the Mr C character.
What can I say? I have nothing but contempt for this myth and characters like Mr C who embody rather than undermine it. If you’re of similar mind, you’ll struggle to get any enjoyment out of Book Week.
Movie Website: http://potentialfilms.com/contemporary-movies/wajib/
Australian release date: Book Week screening in Perth at Luna Leederville from November 29, 2018
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