Novel Romance (2006) / Comedy-Romance
MPAA Rated: Not rated, but would be R for sexual humor, sexuality, brief nudity, and language
Running time: 92 min.
Cast: Traci Lords, Paul Johansson, Sherilynn Fenn, Mariette Hartley, Jacqueline Pinol, Pia Artesona, Mikaila Baumel
Director: Emily Skopov
Screenplay: Eddie Richey, Emily Skopov
Novel Romance plays like a raunchier version of a Lifetime Channel original movie, with a glossy low-budget production, third-tier stars, and lots of shifting back and forth between being in and out of a relationship for the main characters. I wouldn't be surprised if it weren't cleaned up for basic cable sometime soon, although doing so would take away most of the humor, as the sex gags and dialogue consist of many of the jokes dished up by writer-director Emily Skopov (TV's "Andromeda", "Xena") and co-writer Eddie Richey (Phoenix, "The Client") . I won't be going out on a limb by stating that this film will only appeal to rom-com regulars who have a fairly low threshold for entertainment, and female viewers will more likely to find it worthwhile than male due to its slant toward pregnancy and the difficulties of single motherhood.
Novel Romance has Traci Lords (Frostbite, Blade) starring as Max Normane, a popular and successful editor working for an esteemed literary magazine called "Urbanity". She spends most of her time trying to mold the work of authors into something better, but hasn't been able to apply her work into making her own life worthwhile, until it dawns on her that she'd love to have a child. Without any adequate mates on the horizon, Max looks into artificial insemination, and the stud of choice happens to be one of the hungry, talented, but very egocentric authors, Jake Buckley (Johansson, John Q), whose book she has been trying to shape into something others might want to read. He consents to help her to get his book published, but after the conception is final, the two separate, albeit uneasily, with Jake heading off to Europe, becoming a bestselling author almost overnight. However, both have a yen for parenthood and family that compels them to be together, despite not really having a firm bond of liking one another, which causes great ambivalence and uncertainty as to how to proceed.
Novel Romance is a classic case of being a film that isn't awful in any particular area, but by the same token, it isn't nearly fresh enough to overcome the routine nature of the story. It's not poorly acted, it has modestly clever writing, and the directing has a sense of visual flair, and yet, it just never quite comes together to deliver solid entertainment throughout. If I had to fault the film, it would be purely in the story itself, which just is never particularly interesting. It's quirky and energetic, but never delves deep enough to find profound, or funny enough to overlook the blandness of the material.
These problems make Novel Romance instantly forgettable, as it never draws you in completely at any moment, and it doesn't contain any one scene that clicks well enough to deliver a truly vital truth throughout. Lords is appealing in a rare starring role, the writing by Skopov and Richey intelligent, and the showcasing of the lives of the tug-of-war between writer and editor for the direction of a book is somewhat enlightening, but it doesn't congeal into a form that distinguishes itself from the rest of the already crowded rom-com pack. Perhaps handing over this script to a skillful editor prior to filming would have shaped it into something more worthwhile.
©2007 Vince Leo