Books & Drinks Is A Fresh, Fun Take on the Rom-Com

Photo: courtesy Veranera Films.

What more can one ask of life than Books & Drinks? That’s the question posed by the new romantic comedy of that very title and the answer is simple: love. Add in to these, alongside the ebb and flow of the attraction between its two leads, an exotic destination, a colorful mix of supporting characters, and a plot that involves the sale of an inherited Caribbean mansion, and the result is a fun, frothy rom-com that will brighten all but the hardest-hearted cynic’s day.

Director Geoffrey Cowper’s film, his second feature (following 2015’s Day Release), is a study in eccentricities and contrasts. David (Jackson Rathbone) is a New York City bookseller whose business is struggling. So too, though he seems less acutely aware of that fact, is his relationship with his girlfriend Rachel (Clara Lago), whose interests in her self-care regimen and social calendar hardly make a match for David’s intellectual curiosities. The conflict hinges on a surprise: David’s father, whom he did not know, has passed and left him a lavish property in the Dominican Republic. It’s an inheritance David neither expected nor wanted.

David (Jacson Rathbone), wearing a robe, inspects the pool of the property he has inherited.
Jackson Rathbone as David in Books & Drinks. Photo: courtesy Veranera Films.

In fact, the property feels like a burden to David, already saddled with a flagging business, so his plan is to fly south, sell the property as quickly as possible, even well below value if necessary, and get back to his life in New York. It’s not at all a bad plan, except when he arrives there, he finds the estate—oceanfront views, zero-depth pool, impeccable design—an intoxicating change from the life he has been grinding out back home. When his real estate agent arrives, she—Maria, played by the breakout Dominican actress Nashla Bogaert—isn’t at all hot on the idea of a quick sale. It takes time, she says, to plan, to stage, to show, to negotiate.

Raquel (Clara Lago), wearing a forest green dress, smiles.
Nashla Bogaert as Maria in Books & Drinks. Photo: courtesy Veranera Films.

What does not take time, in Books & Drinks, is for the attraction between David and Maria to be made clear. David may have a girlfriend and a gig back home, but neither is really clicking for him. And here in the Dominican, with its sunny skies, warm breezes, and tropical drinks, David finds himself more and more ready for something new. The passing of a parent—even a parent one’s never known—is an occasion for some self-reflection, and as such, when he meets Maria, David’s guard is down.

Maria, meanwhile, like David, has a partner, but that relationship is also going nowhere. And she’s more than a bit smitten with the handsome new fellow in town with the lovely property he’s inherited. A few flirtatious smiles grow into—as they should in any good romantic comedy—something more. Of course, there are obstacles. Both have suspicious, jealous partners, for one. And their own reservations. There are complications with the property and the staff who oversee it. And a little white lie told by Maria grows into a serious conflict of interest.

Those obstacles, though, are just that: obstacles necessitated by the plot to delay the inevitable. With its bright colors, handsome cast, arresting scenery, and winsome charm, Books & Drinks is going to arrive at its predestined outcome. It’s getting there that’s all the fun. Rathbone (Jasper Hale in the Twilight films) makes for a good point-of-view character, his David the fish out of water not knowing much Spanish and often being the butt of the joke; still, he’s a sincere and passion-seeking man in search of meaning in his life. Bogaert is effervescent as the real estate agent with a life goal. Once or twice her character acts in ways you would never ever want to see from your own agent, but Bogaert sells the scenes and the character with such verve that like David, you won’t question too much.

Raquel gives David a playful push into the pool.
Nashla Bogaert as Maria and Jackson Rathbone as David in Books & Drinks. Photo: courtesy Veranera Films.

As the put-out girlfriend Rachel, the Spanish star Lago (Spanish Affair) makes for a formidable romantic rival. It’s made clear we’re not to root for her, but her scenes add some real spice to the narrative, whether she’s knocking back shots, nursing a hurricane-level hangover, or reconnoitering the competition, Lago keeps the film’s destination couple from connecting just long enough to sow at least a little doubt as to whether they will. Hector Aníbal and Luis José Germán’s characters also conspire to keep the leads from each other, for different reasons, and with their own agenda.

Full of sunshine, sly smiles, handsome faces, furtive glances, and Caribbean charm, Books & Drinks isn’t a postmodern deconstruction of the rom-com formula. It’s all, all in, exploiting the genre’s tropes to perfection without succumbing to its clichés. In the end, if there were ever any doubt about where it would arrive, it offers up a satisfyingly pleasant reconsideration of what’s truly important in life. Its protagonist David may never have known his father, but he comes to learn something from him about what drew him to the island and its people in the first place. With a lesson to be learned and a love to be found, Books & Drinks offers up a tropical, topical reminder of where we all should want to go and who we should hope to be.

Written by J Paul Johnson

J Paul Johnson is Publisher of Film Obsessive. A professor emeritus of film studies and an avid cinephile, collector, and curator, his interests range from classical Hollywood melodrama and genre films to world and independent cinemas and documentary.

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