‘THE STORIED LIFE OF A.J. FIKRY’
Rated PG-13. At AMC Boston Common, Landmark Kendall Square and suburban theaters.
In the imperfect, but clever and genuinely moving comedy-drama “The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry,” a lonely bookseller finds love and fulfillment in a way that will remind readers of some of the plots of their favorite books. Set for the most part in the fictional Cape Cod-adjacent Alice Island (the film was shot in Hyannis), the film tells the story of A.J. Fikry (Kunal Nayyar of “The Big Bang Theory” making the leap to romantic lead), a prickly and fiercely opinionated book store owner being sucked dry in the age of E-readers and young people who have never learned to love analog books.
Still, A.J. makes a decent living in the nicely maintained, if badly painted (purple) building in which he also lives. A.J. lost his wife recently and has been drinking himself to sleep at night. On one of those nights, A.J. is robbed, or so he believes, of his copy of “Tamerlane and Other Poems,” a ridiculously rare 1827 publication of Edgar Allan Poe. A.J. is so numb that he does not know the attractive and intelligent Providence book agent Amelia Loman (Lucy Hale), who made the trek to Alice Island to see him in person, is flirting with him. On an earlier date, someone leaves a weeping 2-year-old child named Maya (Charlotte Thanh Theresin) in A.J.’s book shop with a note. Of course, A.J. takes Maya in and adopts her. Poe’s poem “Tamerlane” is the story of a man who laments the loss of a youthful love. One of A.J.’s best friends, sort of, is an unfaithful writer named Daniel (Scott Foley), who is married to A.J.’s sister-in-law Ismay (Christina Hendricks). A.J. is also friendly with the town’s eccentric and unusually sensitive Police Chief Lambiese (David Arquette).
Alice Island has a ferry service and a restaurant called The Pequod, where for a price you may enjoy a cocktail called a Queequeg and “a whale of a meal.” The film, which was adapted by the book’s author Gabrielle Zevin, is based on her best-selling 2015 novel. She and director Hans Canosa, who is her partner and fellow Harvard graduate, have crafted an unsurprisingly novel-like and suitably literary film. “The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry” is, yes, full of stories, ones already written, like “Moby Dick,” and ones that we are told by characters in the film (not to mention the film itself).
In one case, we see both the scene in which a character is asked to tell a story and the story that is being told, acted out in the shadows. When we first meet Amelia aka Amy she is trying to sell A.J. on a book titled “The Late Bloomer,” that she loves, a book that she believes to be a memoir, but turns out, in true Fikry-esque manner, to be a ghost-written fiction. Another literary twist will involve a copy of “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor. One scene in the film is narrated by Chief Lambiese. It’s the story of a boy who was cutting school to hide in the local library to read his copy of “Infinite Jest” in peace. Adding to the meta-quality of it all, a high school-age Maya (Blaire Brown) writes a short story titled “A Trip to the Beach,” which is a fictionalized account of her biological mother’s last day. Canosa and Zevin have crafted an unusually crafty tale, and their talented cast breathes life into it. “The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry” has its ups and downs. But much can be found here.
“The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry” contains profanity, suggestive content and mature themes.