BOOK WEEK

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Heath Davis

Stars: Alan Dukes, Susan Prior, Rose Riley, Tiriel Mora, Airlie Dodds, Toby Schmitz, Khan Chittenden, Steve Le Marquand, Thuso Lekwape, Maya Stange, Nicholas Hope, Jolene Anderson, Rhys Muldoon.

This black comedy/drama follows a bad week in the life of Nick Cutler (Alan Dukes), a lecherous, misanthropic, boozy, rude, and obnoxious author turned cynical teacher.

Several years ago, Nick wrote a novel that was well received, but he has been unable to follow up its success. He regards himself as an “undiscovered literary genius.” Reluctantly he turned to teaching, where he tries to inspire the disinterested and apathetic students at Little Fields High School with the love of words and reading. Cutler has written a new book, a pulpy YA horror novel called World War V. Then he is approached by a couple of publishers (Toby Schmitz and Khan Chittenden) who express interest in his work. However, Cutler is his own worst enemy and his self-destructive nature is likely to derail this last attempt at success.

The film takes place during the school’s annual Book Week festivities. Cutler clashes with upstart student and aspiring novelist Melanie (newcomer Rose Riley), and the idealistic replacement teacher Sarah (Airlie Dodds, from Killing Ground, etc). The womanising Nick is also having a sexual relationship with the school’s uptight vice principal Lee Issen (Susan Prior, from Animal Kingdom, etc), who wants more of a commitment from him. And he is also trying to keep Tyrell (Thuso Lekwape), a wayward teen, out of juvenile detention, although there is nothing altruistic about his motives.

Book Week is the sophomore feature from local writer/director Heath Davis, whose breakthrough film was the little seen 2016 drama Broke. The film’s damaged characters here share some similarities with the characters of his debut feature. Davis is a teacher, and he drew upon his own experiences to shape some of the events of the film. He probes deeply into Cutler’s dark and troubled psyche. The plot is very busy with too many subplots running throughout the narrative, which gives it an episodic feel. Each new day is introduced by an epigraph from a famous author that illustrates the lots of writers as they struggle with their craft.

Dukes is best known for his television work, but he is perfectly cast here as the bitter, irresponsible and disenchanted and thoroughly unlikeable Cutler and he gives his breakout role everything. It is not hard to compare his performance here with that of Michael Douglas as a similarly jaded and cynical author in the 2000 comedy Wonder Boys. There is solid support from the ensemble cast who make the most of their small roles. Tiriel Mora (from the Aussie classic The Castle, etc) is good and brings some touches of bleak humour to his role as the school’s frustrated principal.

Book Week has done well on the film festival circuit, but its appeal to a mainstream audience is fairly limited. Not many people would relish the time spent in the company of such a flawed and unpleasant character as Nick Cutler.

★★☆

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