Comparing The Book Of Life to Fifty Shades Of Grey may seem od, but there is one thing that brings them together – in my head at least. If Fifty Shades had been written by a man, I can’t help but feel it would have been thought of as horrifically sexist, and with The Book Of Life, I couldn’t help but wonder if some would have accused it of racism if it hadn’t been directed and co-written by people from Mexico.
I’m not necessarily criticising the film, but the movie doesn’t have many qualms about delving into Mexican stereotypes. However the fact is that behind the scenes it had a massive Mexican influence, not just from director Jorge R. Gutiérrez and co-writer/producer Guillermo Del Toro, but also many of the crew, who may infuse the movie with sombreros and bullfighting, but they do so with snarking or belittling, instead attempting to pay tribute to the rich culture.
In the film the good La Muerte (Kate Del Castillo) and the evil Xibalba (Ron Perlman) make a bet over whether in a small Mexican town, Maria (Zoe Saldana) will end up marrying Manolo (Diego Luna) or Joaquin (Channing Tatum). Manolo loves music but is stuck between his own passions and the desires of his family, who want him to be a ‘man’ and take on their bullfighting mantle. His childhood friend Joaquin meanwhile becomes a hero, winning hundreds of medals and getting a massive ego as a result.
Maria must decide who to marry, with her father and many others wanting her to take Joaquin as her husband, as he can protect the town. However she has strong feelings for Manolo. After being tricked by Xibalba, Manola dies and must fighting his way through the worlds of the dead in order to find Maria again.
It’s a witty movie with a sweet (if slightly problematic) story, but what really makes this a treat is the creativity of the visuals. Despite a very tight budge, it looks gorgeous, with the whole thing being a riot of colour full of an endless array of great images, from Manolo and co. being designed to look like wooden puppets, to the neon glow of the world of the dead.
Some have criticised the use of well-known pop songs in the film, which Manolo periodically bursts into, but to be honest I didn’t think that was too much of an issue, and certainly younger viewers shouldn’t mind at all. What I did take a slight issue is that the movie does essentially treat Maria as an object to be fought over by men and whose existence is largely about who she’s going to marry. It’s not exactly a paragon of feminist thought, but it does at least attempt to show that Maria have her own difficult issues to deal with, even if they do pretty much all revolve around her marriage plans.
However while the movie could do with a few lessons in modern womanhood, it’s largely an awful lot of fun and has plenty of genuinely humorous moments. And as you would hope, it looks great on Blu-ray. There are also some really good special features, which look at the thought and care that went into making the movie and plenty of other things too.
Overall Verdict: It might lean towards sexism at times, but otherwise The Book Of Life is a great ride with some wonderful Mexico-inspired visuals and plenty of pace and humour.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac