J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Girl in the Book: The Dark Side of Muse-dom

Unfortunately, Alice Harvey never had the right temperament to be a Joyce Maynard. Instead, her inappropriate relationship with celebrated novelist Milan Daneker only led to psychological hang-ups and complexes. However, it gave him plenty of material for his breakout bestseller. When Harvey is forced to work on Daneker’s latest impenetrable tome, it brings her unresolved issues to the fore in screenwriter-director Marya Cohn’s The Girl in the Book (trailer here), which opens tomorrow in New York.

Cohn seems to know just enough about book publishing to get things wrong. Take an “ARC” Harvey’s boss tells her, handing her a jacketed hardcover. Wow, those are some ARCs (advanced reading copies), but the book in question is a backlist staple, so why print any kind of ARCs at all? He then assigns her the entire launch campaign for Daneker’s new hardcover. Trust me, houses have entire marketing and publicity departments for that sort of thing—and especially for a Salingeresque bestseller. He then demands she reschedule an appointment with his shrink. Okay, that one—maybe.

Do these publishing details really matter? Rightly or wrongly, I can’t get around them, because obviously. Make your own judgement on that score. Regardless, Harvey is stuck working with the one person she most wants to avoid. We basically get the gist of their awkward awkwardness right from the start, but the creepy details will be steadily parceled out in flashbacks. The dynamics of their relationship (for lack of a better term) are actually quite credible, in part thanks to her problematic literary agent father. We can believe she craves the attention Daneker gives her, even though we suspect his intentions.

It should be duly stipulated Ana Mulvoy-Ten is absolutely terrific as young Harvey. It is absolutely painful to watch the rude disillusionment of her naïve sensibilities. Michael Nyqvist is also remarkably compelling as Daneker. Cohn offers no excuses or mitigation for his behavior. Yet, despite Nyqvist’s charisma, he largely comes across as sad and pathetic rather than a manipulative monster.

Unfortunately, the contemporary scenes with older, self-destructive Harvey are often pretty cringe-worthy, especially when she gets involve with a vapid (but supposedly soulful) political activist who heads up a group called—nausea warning—“People for the People.” Honestly, you will want them to get back together so they won’t get involved with any innocent bystanders. At least, Ali Ahn supplies some effective reality checks as Harvey’s long suffering best friend, Sadie.

TGITB definitely gets at something when it explores the dark and exploitative nature of mentor-muse relationships. Unfortunately, it is watered down with insular Silk Stocking navel gazing and undermined by a superficial understanding of the glorious book business. Frankly, Mike Nichols’ Wolf is probably still the best publishing movie and it also has werewolves. Its merits just aren’t worth its frustrations when The Girl in the Book opens tomorrow (12/11) in New York, at the Village East.