A Czech/Slovak variation on the commercially viable Bridget Jones model of comic meller, “From Subway with Love” starts strong out of the gate and manages to skate over a scattershot second half on sheer good will. Sturdy local box office in its first fortnight of local release coupled with the audience award at the Finale Pilsen fest, will propel pic to muscular regional biz and durable ancillary.
While traveling by tube to her job at an upscale women’s magazine, 23-year-old beauty Laura (Slovak thesp Zuzana Kanoczova) discovers that in place of some advertising billboards on her train are passionate love letters to an unnamed woman signed by someone named Oliver. Later, while at the beauty shop, she confesses to her hairdresser pals that the missives are intended for her. This prompts an extended flashback to her relationship with the rugged, older adman (Marek Vasut), who seduces her with sophisticated talk out from under hapless b.f. Rickie (Jaromir Nosek) during a skiing holiday in Slovakia’s Tatras mountain range.
Once together, Oliver and Laura struggle to reconcile their differences: She thinks he drinks too much, and he’s perplexed by the sheer volume of her hair care products.
Laura’s perpetually agitated mother Jana (Simona Stasova) fingers Oliver as the same boorish lover she’d had years before, a relationship charted in a hilarious early extended flashback that only makes narrative sense following this revelation.
Also figuring in the action is Laura’s pensive, henpecked neighbor Mr. Zemla (vet singer/thesp Miroslav Donutil), bitter, man-hating chum Ingrid (Ladka Nergesova), and wisecracking grandmother (Stella Zazvorkova, star of “Babi Leto”).
Helmer Filip Renc, who managed the not insubstantial task of turning the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia into the vibrant yet self-conscious 2001 musical comedy “Rebelove,” performs a similar feat with Michael Viewegh’s witty but overly ambitious adaptation of his own novel. Keeping the pace lively and underscoring the action with a series of faux French tunes warbled at key moments by Czech thrush Iva Freuhlingova, Renc manages to reign in a number of unruly subplots that dissipate the central action.
Still, at just past the halfway point, pic loses some velocity, rallying only with a proliferation of the public love letters and a visual gag that reunites Laura with Oliver.
Kanoczova imbues Laura with just the right amount of dignity, Vasut embodies every annoying tendency of what Jana describes as Oliver’s “narcissistic self-pity,” and Stasova steals the movie out from under everyone as Laura’s carnally headstrong mom.
Tech package is stylish, with fine use made of spectacular Tatras locations and Jitka Matiaskova’s distinctive costuming. “Kolya” helmer Jan Sverak pops up as a waiter appearing at the couple’s table immediately following a joke about Jan Sverak.
English title on print caught is “A Woman’s Novel,” literal translation of the original Czech. Pic bears a dedication to Patrik Stoklasa, who has a single scene as a sunny messenger.