Thursday, 14 November 2013

Consider one Professor Don Tillman. Tall, fit, intelligent, dead ringer for Gregory Peck -- so why does this guy need help finding a girlfriend?
Because this guy makes me look like a Social Olympics champion (thankfully, not a real thing). He’s excessively analytical, way too frank, oblivious to social cues and customs, slavishly obsessed with his routines, and emotionally clueless. He also may have Aspergers. He doesn’t have much in the way of a social life, and in the romantic department, the dude has even less. But he figures there’s gotta be someone for everyone -- even for someone like him.
Thus, the Wife Project. In his quest to find the woman who’s perfect on paper, he meets Rosie Jarman, who fails every single criteria in his questionnaire (excepting gender). She moves his furniture around, works at a gay bar, dyes her hair, smokes like a furnace. She’s got a chip on her shoulder, and isn’t afraid to take it out on anyone.
We all know where this is going.

I could see it now: Our hero, entrenched in his monochromatic stagnant ways, seeking a way out of the tunnel of his loneliness and into the technicolor whirlpool of life vis a vis a romantic partner. It's a setting ripe for the emergence of that most complicated and terrible of tropes: the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. It was with trepidation that I read on.
Thankfully, my fears were unfounded.
Rosie is, compared to Don, a normal girl. In fact, she is as far away from being a mere quirky object of the hero's affections as it is possible. She's not actually all that quirky -- Don merely finds her strange because he finds everyone strange. Whatever quirks she does have (dyed hair, vegetarianism, a penchant for pendants), Don just takes these things in stride. She has a backstory of her own -- arguably more of a backstory than Don himself -- and it's this which in fact forms the backbone of the entire story. This may start out as Don's story, but Rosie's own insecurities and her search for her birth father play out centerstage, with Don as the prime mover due to his obsessive determination in the name of science (and, he refuses to admit, for Rosie herself). An interesting combination.
For a while, I considered the possibility that it was Don himself who played the Manic Pixie Dream Guy. He certainly is quirky enough, but I dismissed the idea almost immediately. Obviously, the man has his complications, his problems, and is proactive in solving them -- even if he does go about them in the wrong way. His story arc is more about opening up to possibility and decentralizing his life, but also in accepting that everyone is pretty weird, too. Still, Don's thought processes are charming, hilarious, sad, and sometimes completely relatable.
"You want to share a taxi?" Rosie asked.
It seemed a sensible use of fossil fuel.

I predict this one day will be turned into a movie (it did, after all, begin life as a screenplay), where all the nuances of character will be lost and the drama will be unbearably amped up. So while I give the romance three stars (I get that Don has difficulty expressing and even identifying his emotions, but Graeme Simsion still could have perhaps elicited that delicious gut punch of emotion from us anyway), the comedy and characterization get a solid five stars from me.


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