Skip to main content
The Independent Critic

Jackson Rathbone, Nashla Bogaert, Clara Lago
Geoffrey Cowper
Josep Ciutat
94 Mins.

 Movie Review: Books & Drinks 
Add to favorites

If you're going to make a rom-com, there are certainly worse places to do so than the Dominican Republic.

Geoffrey Cowper's light, engaging Books & Drinks absolutely benefits from the lush, beautiful locale of this Jackson Rathbone-led flick about a man, David (Rathbone), who unexpectedly inherits his $2 million home and is "forced" to travel to the Dominican Republic to sell the home and settle things up. Along the way, he discovers his father's attraction to the beautiful island - the people, the culture, and the possibility of true love. 

That true love is personified by Maria (Nashla Bogaert), who is nearly as beautiful as the island itself and perhaps moreso. Maria is the realtor tasked with selling the estate now belonging to David, though it's clear very early on that she has a deep attachment to this home that is significant on the island and believes it to be something special for someone special. David arrives as a fish-out-of-water. A bookstore owner in New York, David's easy charm is embodied by Rathbone along with a subtle yet obvious uncomfortable tension that he shares with his more ambitious girlfriend Rachel (Clara Lago). 

It's clear that Rachel is far more excited about a $2 million home than is David. 

Books & Drinks recently had its world premiere at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival and seems ideally suited to a strong festival run followed by an indie release. It's a rewarding film for Rathbone, who is still likely best known from his days as Jasper Hale in the Twilight films. While Books & Drinks may not achieve that level of success, it should remind Hollywood to keep on knocking on his door. 

Working from Josep Ciutat's witty, character-driven script, Cowper's Books & Drinks is a warm, feel-good film devoid of unnecessary histrionics. The main conflict here, of course, is between David and Rachel yet even in these scenes it's less malicious and more matter-of-fact. Sometimes, you just meet someone who defines true love for you and, somewhat sadly, it's not always the person you're already with. 

Books & Drinks has a wonderful 90s indie vibe, though I'll also admit I found myself more than once reflecting upon those lightly wonderful Hugh Grant/Julia Roberts rom-coms. The difference, I suppose, is that Books & Drinks is an awful lot more heartfelt and Rathbone acts like he actually wants to be here. 

Clara Lago is an absolute gem as Rachel. Lago avoids anything resembling a one-note performance and has a strong comic sensibility that makes us both laugh and humanize Rachel even as we realize more and more she and David aren't meant to be. While we're never totally sure that David and Maria are meant to be, the two share a warm, sensual chemistry that is part culture, part island, and part strong performances from both Rathbone and Bogaert. 

Bogaert, as well, delivers major kudos for delivering such a richly human yet also funny performance as Maria. Bogaert beautifully captures the quiet comfort between Maria and David. There's a sensuality to it with an abundance of downright sweetness. A Dominican-born actress, Bogaert embodies the island vibe. 

While it would be difficult to poorly lens the Dominican Republic, cinematographer Jose Rosete still deserves kudos for so wonderfully capturing the culture, people, and atmosphere that is immersive and hospitable. The original music by Andres Rodriguez Zelnick is also a warm, winning companion for the film and Ciutat's storytelling. 

Books & Drinks tells a story that is, perhaps, more than a little bit familiar. Yet, this is a story we can't help but enjoy brought so vividly to life by a terrific ensemble cast. In addition to the main players here, Hector Aníbal is terrific as Alex, Luis José Germán shines as Pablo, and Carol Halstead makes a brief but memorable performance as David's mother Clara. 

With its festival journey just beginning, Books & Drinks is definitely a film to watch for in 2024. 

Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic