Finding a journal of handwritten poetry on the subway, a young New Yorker sets out to locate its owner.
Review by Benjamin Poole
Directed by: Christopher Tedrick
Starring: Celina Jade, Jon Fletcher, Kate Middleton, Keir Dullea
In 1993 the German-Trinidadian singer songwriter Haddaway enquired, in his chart hit of the same name, ‘What is love?’. The song went on to explain that while Haddaway was unsure what, exactly, the sensation in question entailed, he was at least certain of one thing: the arcane emotion’s potential to cause him distress (‘baby don’t hurt me no more’). It is now nigh on a quarter century later, and yet the question hangs there, haunting the broadcast of local radios, whispering from speakers in those high street retro nightclubs devoted to the pop music of yesteryear. What is love? It is a query that has perturbed not just one-hit euro-pop wonders, either. It’s arguable that an entire swathe of Western artistic culture is derived from uncertainties similar to the yodelled anxieties that old Haddaway posed at the start of the '90s, unknowingly part of an aesthetic tradition that dates at least back to, I dunno, Homer’s soldiers falling out over Helen of Troy. However, it is generally pop culture and not ancient Greek poets that we turn to when we need our anxieties reflected, our wishes and dreams played back to us; and so we seek out the universal truths of pop music, the aspirations of mainstream cinema. Which begs the question: how much of our notion of love is a projection, an ideal which is in turn encouraged by the fairy tale epitomes of rom-coms, instigated by the glossy rhymes of pop music and stoked by the soft core promises of romance films?
The titular character of Christopher Tedrick’s rather charming romance April Flowers (April - Celina Jade) is a romantic, an idealist who believes that ‘artsy’ is a virtue in a potential partner. In a ‘How Hipster Are You?’ Buzzfeed quiz, April is going to get all greens; a hobbyist photographer who finds diners romantic for their ‘history and simplicity’, she once dumped a fella because his sleeve tattoo ‘failed to hold any special meaning’… No wait, come back! Because despite all that, April is really quite sweet, with Jade’s Hepburnisms (Audrey, not Katherine) imbuing the character with an appealing delicacy, a whimsy which in turn inspires April to seek out the owner of a handwritten leather bound journal that she finds on the subway. The little book is chock full of exactly the sort of handwritten poetry which daydreamers like April fall for. No shade meant: I’d be the same, filling my imagination with idealised visions of the person behind the page, embroidering images fortified by my own aspirations and hopes, and probably allowing this projected fancy to hijack the concrete every day details of my life, as April subsequently does here (for the romantic, reality is never quite enough).
April’s quest starts off in the realms of the wacky. Her first port of call is Craigslist, wherein she somehow accidentally posts the details of the journal upon a message board devoted to sexpeople who like role playing! Awkward hilarity ensues when April meets up with some jolly perv who can’t believe his luck, but, sadly, it transpires that he isn’t actually the poet (the clever voiceover that narrates the story suggests lovelorn April’s mistake was probably Freudian). There are lots of other funny lines in this early part of the film too, with April complaining to her de rigueur wacky BFF (Laura, played by Kate Middleton in a superb supporting role) that having it off with a bloke who had shaved all of his body hair was like ‘cuddling an alien’, hahaha!
Laura’s life, as witnessed by April, seems dull and settled, with her older pal constantly shouting at her kid to tie her shoelaces. What is love? It’s perhaps not this, the film suggests; family and picking up after little children. April seeks poetry and excitement, the imagined ideal of the mysterious journal’s author in shimmery longshots (as played by Keir Dullea!). So, it’s a real shame when she starts up a relationship with Jared (Jon Fletcher), a food bank worker and passive aggressive egotist that the film seems to think is a viable real world alternative to April’s dream man. Jared the jemble gets jealous over the journal, bores on about old soul records, and, annoyingly, insists that April does that thing where she closes her eyes and falls back into his arms so he can catch her. Jared pal, it’s a date, not an office team building exercise: but then he does smugly admit that he ‘just wanted to check out’ April’s ‘ass’. What an unmitigated git. She should have stuck with the role player - at least he had some imagination. Will April learn to accept what is in front of her, instead of pursuing a quixotic idyll?
At times April Flowers is meandering and slightly ponderous, with April’s quest leading her to dead ends, and some encounters having more impact than others. But this is ok; the film and protagonist are always likeable enough to carry us through occasionally slower moments, building to a narrative conclusion that ties the disparate elements of the plot together in a way that is both satisfying and surprising. What is love? April doesn’t come to any resolutions, but that’s fine too, April Flowers suggests, as the emotion’s very ambivalence is also its true value. As Haddaway eventually concluded, ‘I know we’re one, just me and you’.
April Flowers is due to be released in 2017.