As Marya Cohn’s romantic drama “The Girl in the Book”
begins, Alice (Emily VanCamp, formerly of “Revenge” on ABC), an
editorial assistant at a Manhattan publishing house, lacks self-esteem.
She flounders at writing fiction; she is tiring of one-night stands; her
supercilious boss (Jordan Lage) ignores her discovery of a promising
novelist; and her dominating father, an old-school hotshot literary
agent (Michael Cristofer), refuses to believe she can make her own
decisions. Clearly, Alice has problems with men, especially male
Now a former client of her father, the established writer Milan Daneker (Michael Nyqvist),
is taking his latest novel to Alice’s boss, and Alice is assigned to
promote it. She’d rather not: From flashbacks, we learn that 15 years
earlier, when Alice was a teenager, Milan attempted to seduce her under
the pretense that he was cultivating her budding literary skills. The
exploitation did not end there; she was the model for a character of his
who is regarded in literary circles as the “female Holden Caulfield.”
a glimmer of hope in Alice’s present when, through her best friend,
Sadie (Ali Ahn), a pregnant stay-at-home mother, she meets Emmett (David
Call), a handsome, earnest but easygoing political activist who refers
to his “abnormally normal” upbringing. But as Milan re-enters her life,
Alice is again lost in a familiar spiral; it’s no accident that she and
Sadie meet at the “Alice in Wonderland” statue in Central Park. Soon Alice must fight to hold on to Emmett.
Another Carrollian allusion — distantly evoking the inspirational if mysterious relationships of Charles Dodgson (a.k.a. Lewis Carroll) with Lorina and Alice Liddell —
informs the scenes with Milan and the 14-year-old Alice (Ana
Mulvoy-Ten).These encounters, which induce a quiet, queasy suspense,
teeter between Milan’s sexual agenda and Alice’s desire for paternal
encouragement, and play havoc with her adult future.
Nyqvist (the male protagonist in the Swedish “The Girl With the Dragon
Tattoo” movies) is part sanctimonious celebrity and part insinuating
predator; the tentative Ms. Mulvoy-Ten appears somewhat uneasy in her
role, which only helps her performance. As for Ms. VanCamp’s adult
Alice, she is a rounded, winning blend of self-doubt and fitful
director, Ms. Cohn, making her feature debut, wrote the script and
handily keeps the story’s many elements in motion. A third-act sequence
in which the Internet unlocks Alice’s creativity as she pleads for
Emmett’s forbearance is a little tidy in its overnight resolution. But
Ms. Cohn stops well short of overweening sentiment. Given her confident
hand behind the camera and gift for rich female characters, you hope to
see more portraits from her in the future.
“The Girl in the Book” is not rated. Running time: 1 hour 28 minutes.