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Authors Anonymous

D: Ellie Kanner / 93m

Cast: Kaley Cuoco, Chris Klein, Teri Polo, Dylan Walsh, Dennis Farina, Jonathan Bennett, Tricia Helfer, Jonathan Banks, Meagen Fay

Centred around a writer’s group assembled by optometrist Alan Mooney (Walsh), Authors Anonymous takes its aspiring, unpublished authors – Alan, pizza delivery guy Henry (Klein), war veteran John (Farina), Alan’s wife Colette (Polo), and slacker William (Bennett) – and lets the audience watch what happens when Hannah (Cuoco) is introduced into the group.  Hannah is the least literary-minded of the group, and as the movie progresses it becomes clear she doesn’t really read, she just writes.  When asked by Henry if she’s read The Great Gatsby, he’s amazed to find she’s never heard of it, let alone its author (and his favourite), F. Scott Fitzgerald.  William’s favourite author is Charles Bukowski, while John’s is Tom Clancy.  Colette is writing a novel called Nyet (Not Yet).  Alan likes to think of himself as an ideas man; he carries a dictaphone around with him and records his ideas as and when inspiration strikes – “Idea for Michael Crichton-type novel, members of Antarctic research station attacked by mutant penguins”.

The cat is really thrown amongst the pigeons when Hannah reveals she’s secured an agent.  Everyone is mildly happy for her and they do their best not to look too unsupportive, although John, probably the most competitive of the group, feels compelled to mention that an agent is currently reading his novel, Roaring Lion.  Things really begin to fracture when Hannah announces that her agent has sold her book and it’s going to be published.  Not wishing to be outdone, John goes the route of self-publishing, getting his book printed in China (and with disappointing results).  As the harmony within the group begins to unravel ever faster and faster, Hannah does her best to reassure everyone that they are all in it together, but personal ambitions and individual pride prove too strong to overcome.

As Hannah’s good fortune increases, she and Henry embark on a tentative relationship.  This helps break his writer’s block, but his thinly disguised literary version of their connection doesn’t fool anyone, and his hopes for his fictional characters are soon shot down.  Colette struggles to get her manuscript to an agent, even going so far as to “accidentally” bump into one at her husband’s practice.  William contributes very minor corrections each week to the three pages he’s written so far, while John decides to promote his book at the hardware store where his girlfriend, Sigrid (Helfer) works.  Each have their own blinkered view of their abilities, each thinks they can be successful in their own right, except for Alan who is happy to support his wife in her career.

Authors Anonymous - scene

Of course, with the exception of Henry, they are all terrible writers (or ideas man).  The movie makes a lot of hay out of the level of self-delusion each character brings to the typewriter, but does so with a degree of heart that underpins the humour.  Completely lacking in talent they may be, but John, William, Colette and Alan all have hope that their next big idea or writing project is going to be the one that makes them a success; they’re dreamers, and in a kind-hearted way, Authors Anonymous, doesn’t discourage the idea of that dream, even when each of them suffers setback after setback.  Even when John’s book signing backfires, it’s only slightly amusing, and as played by the late, great Dennis Farina, John’s disappointment is heartbreaking; he has such confidence in his book he can’t understand why it’s not an instant bestseller.

Colette stands out as the most desperate of the group, her need to succeed infusing everything she does with a barely restrained impetus.  Polo plays her as a trophy wife who wants her own identity, even if that identity is too much for her to achieve.  Backed by a husband she has few real feelings for beyond those at a superficial level, Colette eventually finds her way in to literary circles but not in the way she expects, while Alan is left to rue the day he created the group.

Aside and relatively uninvolved in all this is Hannah, an outwardly carefree, unpretentious woman who writes what she knows (not a bad maxim to have).  But Hannah is more determined than she at first appears, and if the will to succeed at all costs is carefully hidden at the outset, there’s no doubt about it by the movie’s end.  Cuoco (best known as Penny in The Big Bang Theory) doesn’t quite nail all the nuances that make Hannah deeper than she seems, and puts too much into making her more wholesome than she needs to be.  Her burgeoning relationship with Henry is too sedate to be credible; they’re too respectful of each other, and the passion they show in their writing fails to show up when they’re together.  There’s the makings of a good friendship there, and the script by David Congalton pursues that rather than a tumultuous affair.

And therein lies the movie’s unavoidable problem: it’s too nice.  In fact, it takes a very pleasant, often languid approach, and maintains that pace and presentation from start to end.  There are some moments of drama, but this is first and foremost a slow burn romantic comedy with the romance left out, leaving the audience with a comedy of (literary) manners.  It’s amusing in places but not uproariously so, and is at least character driven rather than reliant on gross-out gags and violent pratfalls.  It’s also shot in a faux cinéma vérité style – the group is being filmed for a documentary feature – that breaks its own rules frequently, and doesn’t really add anything to the proceedings.  The cast are willing participants and Polo and Farina are stand outs, while Klein and Cuoco do their best with characters who skirt perilously close to being a few baby steps away from boring.  Kanner directs with an occasional attempt at flair and a liking for low camera angles, and there’s a chirpy, upbeat score courtesy of Jeff Cardoni that should be distracting but fits the action.  There’s a few heavy-handed swipes at celebrity culture and pretentious literary types added to the mix but they’re not given enough focus to sway anyone’s attention or already held opinion, and the movie ends with a predictable coda based around the running gag/question of who is Hannah’s favourite author.  If you can’t guess who it is, then you haven’t seen enough movies, let alone read enough books.

Rating: 6/10 – a pleasant enough diversion made more engaging every time Farina is on screen; but with very little of note to break things up, or bolder characterisations, Authors Anonymous is like the cinematic equivalent of a synopsis.