Only the most devoted aficionados of Brazilian author Paulo Coelho will find much to hold their interest in “Paulo Coelho’s Best Story,” a dramatically flat and tediously disjointed drama that comes across as a standard-issue, cliche-littered, struggling-writer-finds-fulfillment biopic that has been cut-and-pasted into borderline incoherence. Anyone unfamiliar with Coelho — reputed to be the only living author more translated than Shakespeare — and his most influential novels (“The Alchemist,” “The Pilgrimage”) likely will walk out or switch off before the midway point, if they bother to buy a ticket or rent a video in the first place.
Director Daniel Augusto and scripter Carolina Kotscho have deconstructed their narrative into a plethora of chronologically scrambled bits and pieces while following their subject’s life and career from the 1960s — when the insolent young Paulo’s rebellious behavior drives his parents to having him committed to an institution for electroshock therapy — to 2013, as a grayer and wiser Coelho copes with being a living legend on the 25th anniversary of “The Alchemist.”
Scattered throughout are various and sundry scenes of Coelho (played as an adult by Julio Andrade) more or less running down the checklist of excesses — drinking, drugging, rutting, railing against squares, drinking some more and so on — we’ve come to expect in any movie about a free-spirited bohemian chafing against social, legal and parental restraints. At one point, Coelho appears to be throwing in his lot with a mysterious Catholic sect; later, he indulges in occult imagery and UFO allusions as a pop-rock songwriter whose paeans to an “alternative society” are deemed subversive by agents of the military government.
The latter development cues what arguably is the most intensely enthralling scene in the entire movie. After being arrested and brought in for interrogation by government thugs, Coelho laughs off the threat of torture with electrical shocks by claiming he developed a taste for high-voltage jolts back when he was in the booby hatch. The interrogator doesn’t need much more evidence to decide Coelho is a bona fide lunatic, not an enemy of the state.
In another notable scene — this one impactful for all the wrong reasons — Coelho switches channels while he and his smokin’ hot girlfriend (played, briefly, by the suitably sizzling Paz Vega) are watching TV news. Lo and behold, the author happens upon, and is immediately inspired by, the sagacity of Mr. Spock in a Portuguese-dubbed episode of “Star Trek.” No, really.
Tricked out with varying amounts of aging makeup and facial hair, Andrade vacillates between wild-eyed frenzy and beatific contentment, with occasional stops in between for spiritual discontent, abject horniness and — during scenes with Fabiana Gugli as Christina, Coelho’s supportive and infinitely patient wife — wry bemusement. As the younger Coelho, Ravel Andrade, Julio’s kid brother, is as sullen as the script calls for — which, unfortunately, is rather too much.
To give fair credit where it’s due, “Paulo Coelho’s Best Story” manages to be believable, if not necessarily compelling, during those inevitable stretches where the struggling writer is, well, writing. Both Andrade siblings actually appear to be creating in the moment as they pound away at typewriters. Trouble is, when they actually read a snatch of the inspirational verbiage they’re typing — “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it!” — you can’t help wondering whether something got lost in the translation, or the dramatization, of this much-translated author.
Production values are more than adequate, with period flavor convincingly evoked throughout.