There’s that delicate balance between being human and being an asshole or simply being likable versus unlikable. Writer/director Heath Davis manages to pull a little sympathetic humanity out of his narcissistic lead character, Nick Cutler (Alan Dukes) in the Australian comedy, Book Week.
Nick Cutler is a brilliant author with serious interpersonal problems. During a meeting with his agent and potential publishers, the publishers love his zombie book idea but want him to change it to vampires (because focus groups say so), and they want him to change his personality for the better before committing to any final agreement. This means Nick must be on his best behavior and keep his nose clean until his teaching job ends in a week.
“…Nick must be on his best behavior and keep his nose clean until his teaching job ends in a week.”
Being a nice guy isn’t going to be easy for Nick. First, there’s the not-quite-girlfriend Lee (Susan Prior), who after a quick bang in the broom closet wants Nick to be her guest at an awards banquet that night (guess who doesn’t show up). Then after the potential good news of a book deal, Nick goes to a local bar to celebrate and hooks up with total stranger Sarah (Airlie Dodds), who days later by surprise is Nick’s teacher’s aide. Nick most intriguing relationship is with one of his students Melanie (Rose Riley). Melanie idolized Nick long ago and inspired her to become a writer herself, her attitude quickly changed when she finally met Nick and his personality. Yet, she still wants his thoughts on a book she wrote.
Book Week is essentially a cringe comedy. As Murphy’s Law plays a significant role in Nick’s demise, really his downfall comes from one selfish, self-serving, self-sabotaging decision to the other. Straight from Nick’s book deal celebration, his life slowly starts to fall apart and every event begins to dismantle Nick’s chances of getting back on top in the book world once again.
Let’s start with the fact that the director succeeds in creating an open and complex world surrounding Cutler. Everyone who comes in contact with Nick has varying degrees of admiration and/or disdain. Nick’s behavior ultimately pushes them to one direction or the other by the end of the film. This is a superb example of juggling numerous characters, and all of them serving their own purpose as either character-building moments or humorous situations.
“…Hope is the star creating the perfect character which would be difficult to replicate in the U.S.”
We’ve seen these “dick” character before in film and television. Often out of laziness, what makes these characters assholes are they act like assholes. Yet, what makes Book Week’s Nick different is finding some form of sympathy/likeability for the role. In this case, Cutler is unlikeable because he’s a grade A narcissist and even he doesn’t like himself all that much. In the end, he can’t quite get doing the right thing right at all. I suppose what makes him likable is he’s just a few inches from the end of his rope, and this book deal represents hope…even if it’s a fleeting hope.
As cringe comedies go, Book Week is a pretty solid comedy and worth watching. There are many funny moments and a few that may offend those who are extra-sensitive to anything mildly offensive. This is a good thing. The film could only work thanks to Alan Dukes’ lead performance. He has you liking Nick Cutler from the very beginning when you really shouldn’t. Alan Dukes is the star creating the perfect character that never winks at the camera nor goes over-the-top in its comedy, which may make it difficult to replicate this story in the U.S. with an American comedian.
Book Week (2018) Written and directed by Heath Davis. Starring Alan Dukes, Susan Prior, Rose Riley, Airlie Dodds. Book Week screened at the 2019 Newport Beach Film Festival.
8 out of 10 stars