Movie review: Arrested development gets serious in ‘The Girl in the Book’

Movie review: Arrested development gets serious in ‘The Girl in the Book’’

The Girl in the Book
Stephanie Merry on December 10 at 9:44am

The pop-cultural zeitgeist suggests there’s nothing wrong with a little arrested development. Millennials freeloading off their parents, well into their 30s, are often played for laughs in movies and television. Not in “The Girl in the Book.”

On the cusp of 30, Alice Harvey (Emily VanCamp) is, at least, living in her own New York apartment. But she spends her days as a glorified gofer, working as the assistant to a jerk of a book editor, while at night trolling the bars, drinking martinis and searching the crowd for potential one-night stands. Aside from one very patient friend (Ali Ahn), Alice’s support system is her pretentious father (Michael Cristofer), a control freak who won’t even let his daughter order her own food at a restaurant.

This is not the life Alice envisioned. She’s stuck, but her situation isn’t a sign of the times so much as the result of a devastating childhood incident.

We’re given some inkling of the roots of Alice’s trauma one day while she’s at work: A famous author, Milan Daneker (Michael Nyqvist), walks in for an appointment, and Alice’s first impulse is to hide under her desk. The film then flashes back to her teens, when Alice had a relationship with the much older writer, intertwining those flashback scenes with the present-day story. When she was 14, Alice was a lonely aspiring writer who felt invisible, with parents who spent more time baiting each other than caring for her. But Milan, a work acquaintance of her father’s, took Alice under his wing.

You can probably guess where that selfless mentorship leads. (To my great relief, the actress who plays the teenage Alice, Ana Mulvoy-Ten, is in her 20s, though she looks much younger.) Milan then uses Alice as the template for the protagonist of his most famous novel — the story of a character said to be a female Holden Caulfield. Though Milan’s career has languished since that success, Alice clearly hasn’t done much better. But a glimmer of hope arrives in the form of Emmett (David Call), a charming political activist Alice meets at a party.

The feature debut of writer- director Marya Cohn, “The Girl in the Book” is a quietly devastating portrait of innocence lost too soon and adulthood delayed too long. The story is efficiently told with unexpected twists and deft dialogue. When Alice admits to enjoying the latest Hollywood blockbuster, her father responds, “I thought you were smarter than that.” That tells us all we need to know about how this man treats his daughter.

As Alice, VanCamp is exceptional, eliciting our sympathy even when the character is making maddeningly self-destructive decisions. While the stakes rise after Alice becomes invested in her new relationship with Emmett, love isn’t shown to be a cure-all.

To the movie’s credit, no man is going to save this damsel in distress. That’s something only Alice can do for herself.


Movie review: Arrested development gets serious in ‘The Girl in the Book’

Freestyle Digital Media, independent film distributor.

“The Washington Post”