Book of Love (1990) is a film that never really got much of an audience, but that's not to say it didn't deserve one. It tells the story of John Twiller, who has just recieved a message from a high school girlfriend. He doesn't recollect her at first, so he opens his high school yearbook and reminisces about 'the good days'. What follows are a series of flashbacks to his adventures growing up in the 1950s. School, friends, girls, and growing up are the key elements here.
Twiller is a bit of a social outcast, since his family has just moved to a new neighborhood. Like many of us growing up, he has trouble jumping into new environments, but couldn't hide it very well. Although he eventually becomes friends with a few other young boys, he still remains unlucky with the ladies. In particular, one of the more popular ladies at school catches his eye, but she seems way out of reach for someone like him.
While the concepts are hardly new, there are a few things that keep Book of Love slightly above water. Sure, the story is predictable, the dialogue is occasionaly embarrasing, and the overall story format leaves much to be desired; but there's still an inherent spark to the movie that allows some of these flaws to be overlooked. Additionally, the performances are uniformly strong: in fact, this could even be considered close to Stand By Me in the 'young kids acting department', and the strength of the cast is enough to carry the somewhat generic story. Additionally, I appreciate that the 'candy-coated bubble' of the 1950s has been ignored, as these kids are shown as more realistic characters...not of the typical 'gee-whiz' variety. For these reasons, Book of Love may be a pleasant trip down memory lane.
Still, if it's challenging cinema you're after, look elsewhere.
This movie was the first and only directorial effort by Robert Shaye, who some of you might know as the Co-CEO and Co-Chairman of New Line Entertainment. Obviously, he has enough pull to rekindle the flame of Book of Love on DVD, and fans of the movie will be happy to know that this release presents the film in its best possible light. Although there have been far better efforts in the 'coming-of-age' genre, there were just enough bright spots in the movie to deserve a bit of attention for a new generation. Let's see how the DVD stacks up:
Quality Control Department
Book of Love is given a relatively pleasing new transfer from New Line Entertainment. While it's nothing that'll knock your socks off, it really breathes new life into this 1990 film. Colors are bold and clean, and the 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer is largely free from dirt and other problems. Even the dark scenes hold up nicely, making this a good visual effort overall.
The audio is as good as it's going to get for a dialogue-driven film. Presented in three formats (2.0, 5.1 Surround and DTS), I'd actually recommend the 5.1 over the DTS if you're going the surround route, as there was a slight lack of low end and overall atmosphere in the DTS mix. Whether this was a slight fault with the disc itself or otherwise, I noticed an improvement after I switched over to 5.1. Overall, this isn't a bad effort (especially considering the source materials and style of movie), but don't expect to be enveloped in sound.
Menu Design & Packaging:
The menus are fun, resembling an old yearbook spread. The appropriately-themed '50s music plays in the background, and the overall design is very fitting. Navigation is a little awkward at first, but everything is organized well and easy to make out. The packaging was not available for this screener copy but the cover artwork doesn't look too promising.
First off, we're treated to an Audio Commentary by director Robert Shaye, which proves to be a decent listen. Shaye is entertaining and well-spoken, and comes prepared with many personal experiences and stories that took place before, during, and after the film's conception and production. This is a well-done commentary track that will really be a nice extra for fans of the movie. From here, we also get a documentary entitled Meet Bob Shaye (guess what it's about?). This is more of an objective look at the director, and covers his early career and eventual rise to the top of New Line Cinema. Although this gives the DVD somewhat of a 'vanity project' feel, both of these extras are informative and entertaining. Due to the relative obscurity of this movie, there probably wasn't much bonus material to pick from. However, I'd have liked to hear from more of the cast, and maybe what they've been up to lately (a group commentary would have been ideal).
While Book of Love is hardly a groundbreaking or original film, it's just pleasing enough to pass the time on a weekend. However, there wasn't much beyond nostalgia that really set this movie apart from the pack, so it's really hard to recommend it as anything but a 'mildly pleasant diversion'. The DVD from New Line is also a decent enough effort, especially since the film has been largely overlooked in the past. Here's the bottom line: if you're a fan of the film, this release will really be a treat. Everyone else should Rent It first.
Other Links of Interest
Robert Shaye Filmography at IMDb
Randy Miller III is an art instructor based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in an art gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, general debauchery, and writing things in third person.