So there's this whole entire feature length documentary about the contemporary romance novel, and the women who read them. Make no mistake, they are legion, and they truly eat them up. (Just short of literally!)
If the topic sounds unworthy, think again. The obsession that fuels the romance novel niche is made palpable, even, at times, understandable. When one considers that cinema itself thrives on obsession, it should then be no surprise that this topic is a viable one. And here, it works - sometimes in spite of itself.
As profiled in Love Between the Covers, many of the readers are themselves aspiring and/or up-and-coming authors. It's evident nearly immediately that theirs is a tight knit community. More than once, it's mentioned that they regularly attend a major romance novel conference, a highlight of everyone's year.
At the conference, there's a kind of level playing field that allows for the phenomenally successful (including Nora Roberts and Mary Bly, aka Elosia James, both interviewed for the film) to advise, mingle with, and even have coffee with the newbies and unknowns. This was neat to learn about, that the romance novel community is an actual in-person community. Horror and sci-fi fans aren't the only ones who can gather and positively geek out.
Funded by a Kickstarter campaign, Love Between the Covers is stocked with many, many compelling talking head interviews with authors and gushing fans. The documentary is pretty clearly, if not the work of a fellow reader, then certainly a sypathetic individual. Which is to say, the film doesn't apologize for, belittle or peck away at the scene, but rather just the opposite.
Director Laurie Kahn (veteran filmmaker of many political and historical Eyes on the Prize and American Experience docs), through her interviews and storytelling, spends the ever-watchable yet wholly innocuous movie explaining, defending, and ultimately humanizing this most marginalized literary genre.
Love Between the Covers makes its point persistently, that the romance novel should be viewed in a legitimate light. In fact, it insists upon it. Unfortunately, it dishes up far more verbal testimonial than convincing literary samples, leaving the viewer to take their word for it.
Indeed, any readings from the novels themselves are few and fleeting, just as any iconic singular works are neglected in favor of considering the whole field en mass, in terms of raw volume and mass consumption. Shots of shelves packed to overflowing with pastel spine after pastel spine flash by as interviewees tell of how they read shockingly vast numbers of them in short periods of time.
And yet, there's an understanding. The point is made early on that romance is the genre that "keeps the lights on" for the entire publishing industry. And, considering the numbers, it would be foolish to dispute that. Bookstore shelves are shown overflowing with the novels, complete with headers detailing all the different sub genres available. Traditional romance, vampire romance, erotic romance, Christian romance, time travel romance, Amish romance, even steampunk romance. Lesbian romance and African-American romance are given their own devoted segments of the film, following successful authors in either niche.
We are told in no uncertain terms that diversity and creativity are what fuel the unwavering devotion of so many to these types of books. There's something for everyone, even as the "everyone" in question does indeed tend to be almost entirely women. And, it's postulated that perhaps it is the reality of the predominantly female fanbase that is at the root of the genre's chronic marginalization. Although the repeat defenses of escapism, happy endings (always!), and love conquering all don't do much to bolster the art form, I must say.
Knowing virtually nothing of romance novels other than they have struck me to be the kudzu weed of the used bookstore, and they're said to be trashy, I opted to check this doc out in an effort to learn about the authentic human beings who write, publish, and read this stuff. Mission accomplished. On the grounds of lack of sufficient evidence, I'm not ready to buy into all the claims of qualitly that are argued in Love Between the Covers, but I am impressed the thoughtful and level-headed devotion to the genre.
All in all, Laurie Kahn has done a remarkable job in crafting an affirming, entertaining documentary about a topic that that I don't care about, and doesn't lend itself to any b-roll footage for cutaways. A filmmaker can only cut away to book covers so many times, and romance novels don't have pictures that can be shown and flash animated. Even still, Love Between the Covers covers it well enough.