The Girl in the Book is far from extraordinary, but it’s beautiful at times in its stillness. The film follows the character Alice as a young girl then later as an adult as she grapples with her identity and a damaging relationship from her past. Set in the fast pace of publishing in New York City, Alice is a book editor when a man from her past returns to release a new edition of the book that made him a bestselling author, and the one that was stolen from Alice’s life.
Directed by Marya Cohn, she paints Alice’s pain with delicacy, refusing to over simplify while simultaneously unafraid to show her faults. Alice, played by Emily VanCamp and Ana Mulvoy-Ten, respectively, has gone through her early adulthood with herself partially turned off, enjoying her friendships but keeping up stilted one night stands that she doesn’t seem to enjoy instead of finding any real connections. She keeps a job where she’s demeaned and finds herself facing major writer’s block. Milan’s (Michael Nyqvist) return is the catalyst she’s been needing, even if it unearths some tough memories.
What the film gets remarkably well is the insecurity Alice feels and how it seeps into every area of her life, whether she wants it to or not. Her relationship with her father is very much one-sided, as he not only tries to control every one of her moves but also tries to reap the benefits of her own successes and rewards. It’s an unhealthy relationship, and there are moments where we know Alice knows this just as well as we do, but she never severs ties. We see this similarly between Alice and her boss, who treats her like she’s a secretary rather than a fellow editor, refusing to hear her opinions and thoughts. VanCamp manages to express a lot with just a look, and it’s easy to tell that she finds her boss as insufferable as we do, but she still stays.
Maybe this is because of low self-esteem built up from years of being told who she is and why, what she likes and how she should be behaving. Alice, in her own way, is a very tragic character and it’s her plight in overcoming these personal injustices that make her and the film fascinating to watch. The film often looks beautiful as well, with the cinematography by Trevor Forrest making distinct changes between the past and present day. The former has a fuzzier tone, with brighter colors and a vibrancy in Alice’s life. Everything seems brighter in the flashbacks when Alice believes she finally has someone in her corner, even if that someone is behaving predatory and inappropriately. In the present day the frames are muted.
If the film hadn’t taken one big misstep it could have ended as an engaging film about one woman’s strength of will and peace of mind but instead, it opted to inject a romance subplot where one wasn’t necessary. One that is so frivolous that it seems more like an afterthought, where by the end the love interest is so poorly and thinly written that I’ve forgotten what he does or what makes Alice so head over heels for him. I get that her finding love is a means of progress, that it shows that she’s moved beyond damaging or fleeting relationships, but it doesn’t at all figure into the main plot of Alice finding herself and being happy with herself. It doesn’t add to her overcoming her writers block and rediscovering her creativity. It’s simply there because the film felt it needed it there, rather than wanting it there as a part of the story. The film would have benefited from cutting the plot all together in favor of dedicating more time to fleshing out Alice’s other relationships in her life.
Easy to watch but forgettable, The Girl in the Book is out now.