Book review: The Hot Guy by Mel Campbell and Anthony Morris

(cover image courtesy Echo Publishing)

 

It hasn’t been easy being a romantic comedy fan of late.

Ever since Meg Ryan, and later Sandra Bullock shuffled off their mortal rom-com coil, and to be honest not always even then, has this genre ever matched the giddy heights of the golden age of Hollywood when Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn (Roman Holiday) or Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn (The Philadelphia Story, Bringing Up Baby) delighted up with their zingy dialogue and sparklingly romantic chemistry.

So when I saw that the rom-com was now a literary thing – granted it has been that for a while but when you title your book The Hot Guy, as film reviewers and fast friends Mel Campbell and Anthony Morris have done, it’s kind of hard to miss – imagine my delight and hopeful expectation.

Even more so, when I was promised a surfeit of witty pop culture references to add bulk to the much-loved tropes of the genre such as the Meet Cute (who can see a relationship coming from x or y incident? No, not us!), the Falling in Love Unexpectedly sequence, or the Inevitable Falling Out followed by the Dash to the Airport/Suddenly-Called Wedding/Weirdly Inappropriate Work Function.

“Adam sighed and let the others rabbit on without him. He never wanted to discuss his love life with this coworkers; he suspected they would even mock him for using the term ‘love life’. But because they insisted on dragging him ton the bar across from the cinema for Friday and Saturday  night knock-off drinks, they always noticed when Adam took a girl home, and then insisted on prodding him for the kind of gory details Adam didn’t really feel like sharing.” (P. 21)

Hopes were high, and alas very quickly dashed.

While the premise is promising – a hot guy, Adam, who has no idea he is a hot guy meets a woman, Cate, on the rebound who simply wants someone real and caring rather the idiots she dated in the past – and some of the pop culture satire is sublimely very silly (the fake film titles and plots that litter the book are hilarious and a knowing skewering of one too many been-there-done-that film properties), The Hot Guy overall doesn’t really gain very much traction.

That’s not to say it doesn’t have its charms such as some very snappy dialogue and over the top Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt surrealist satire (there is a Facebook group devoted to keeping Adam single for all the single women in town and they are seriously loopy), but it never really hits its stride, getting close but never quite living up to its premise.

For starters, while Adam and Cate are undeniably totes adorbs together – sorry to use out of town cloyingly social media jargon but honestly that is the only way to describe them – their friends are a massive turnoff.

 

Mel Campbell and Anthony Morris at the launch of The Hot Guy (image via & (c) Bonnier Publishing)

 

Seriously, why would you even be friends with these people? The fact that Steve and Renton, Adam’s shallow coworkers at the cinema where he works to fund his filmmaking ambitions, and Vanessa and Kristy, Cate’s kite and alcohol-obsessed pals, are friends with their the protagonist couple casts down on whether we’re being the full story of the two lovebirds.

Which brings us to Adam and Cate themselves.

Yes they are sweet together, and Campbell and Morris execute the idea of two people subverting expectations and disregarding ill-thought out advice with aplomb, but their attempt to be light and frothy, and to observe all the rom-com tropes even as they’re obviously trying to subvert them, doesn’t really pan out.

It feels like you’re reading a 20 minute sitcom plot stretched out over a full book, and while it was entertaining in fits and starts, and yes of course, as a sucker for happy endings, I wanted to see them get back together again after they split two thirds of the way through of the book – if you think that is a spoiler, then clearly this genre is not for you – it never really made made the case for being over 300 pages long.

“Cate was lying in bed thinking of Adam when the doorbell rang. Actually, she was thinking of Adam in a way that probably would have led to something more than thinking, so to say she was annoyed at the interruption would have been something of an understatement.” (P. 167)

It could have been the fact that Campbell and Morris, steeped in movie lore as they are, did their best to pay homage to an undeservedly much-maligned genre, but while The Hot Guy is chock-full of  deliciously on point cinema references, they’re not enough to keep a wafer-thin plot or haphazard characterisation from sinking this attempt to keep the genre alive and kicking.

In fact, there were times when the action was so incredibly unbelievable – I would run to the police if I was kidnaped not wail ineffectively to my hopelessly unsupportive friends and how on earth does Adam not pick up on his hotness? Really? – that I found my eyes rolling in my head.

The Hot Guy is not an atrociously bad book, and has some genuine fun with its genre, pop culture and the way we approach love and romance in the modern age, but sadly, and my lord I wanted to LOVE this book, not enough to make me fall in love with it, especially when the ending is so rushed you wonder why you bother to stick around for it.

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