The Storied Life of A J. Fikry is one of the most exasperating movies I've ever seen. Watching it is an exercise in frustration because it absolutely refuses to create anything even remotely resembling dramatic tension. I didn't care about anyone in it, nor did I care what happened to them because it's all so terminally boring. Gabrielle Zevin wrote the screenplay based on her own best-selling novel, doing herself no favors in the process. What works on the page doesn't necessarily work the same way in a film. She needed help whipping her story into something with a little life.
The film begins with publisher's rep Amelia (Lucy Hale) arriving by ferry on quaint Alice Island. She visits the bookshop of A.J. Fikry (Kunal Nayyar), the cranky proprietor who isn't interested in stocking the book she's promoting. Then Amelia disappears and a different storyline starts. Lamenting the death of his wife one night, A.J. gets drunk and loses a rare, valuable book written by Edgar Allan Poe. He enlists the local cop, Lambiase (David Arquette), to investigate. He questions A.J.'s sister-in-law Ismay (Christina Hendricks), whose husband Daniel (Scott Foley) is a philandering novelist. But then that thread stops too, and we're suddenly watching A.J. find a little girl who's been abandoned by her mother in his shop.
From there, the movie confusingly jumps ahead 18 months. Amelia is back and suddenly friendly with A.J., who has adopted the little girl. The investigation into the book no longer seems to be on the front burner. Time jumps forward yet again. A.J. and Amelia are now a couple. How did this happen? We're never told. The romance is paused long enough to introduce yet another subplot, involving a drunken writer who penned the book Amelia initially tried to convince A.J. to sell in his shop. Just when you think that might go somewhere, another detour arrives, in the form of a long scene between Amelia and a mystery woman that takes five minutes to convey a completely irrelevant piece of information that could have been given in ten seconds.
Such is the nature of The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry. It isn't so much a movie as a series of dull, talky scenes, none of which seem to have much connection to the one right before or the one right after. The truly appalling thing about the film is that, at the end, it pretends something profound has taken place, when the exact opposite is true. Sure, we find out where the little girl came from. She's barely even a character here, so who cares? Zevin and director Hans Canosa – who seems to have graduated from “Turn the Camera On and Just Let It Roll” University – expect us to believe that knowing how she ended up in his shop and finally learning what happened to the Poe book have enormously impacted his life. Spending 95 minutes on meaningless nonsense, then wanting us to get choked up in the last five is insulting.
There are good actors here. This isn't their fault. Poor writing and sluggish direction are to blame. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry doggedly withholds material that might gain our interest, instead giving us material that causes us to zone out. As a result, the movie is an endurance test. If you can watch it without falling asleep, playing with your cell phone, or running for the exits, you have accomplished something impressive.
out of four
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is rated PG-13 for brief strong language, some suggestive material, and thematic elements. The running time is 1 hour and 45 minutes.