It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
It’s symptomatic that the only really memorable scene during “Paulo Coelho’s Best Story,” a film with a running time of 112 minutes, lasts about 60 seconds and focuses not on the title character, but on his father. Set in a car while Pedro Coelho (Diaz) listens to a song co-written by his son Paulo (Andrade) and, realizing he’s the inspiration of its cruel lyrics, fights back the tears, this scene represents a rare moment of sensibility, authenticity and beauty in a movie terribly lacking in inspiration.
Written (and produced) by Carolina Kotscho, the screenplay tries to tell Paulo Coelho’s trajectory before he became "the only living author more translated than Shakespeare"—from a troubled teen and a troubled young adult until he graduated to, judging by the film, a problematic old man. Suffering from a problematic relationship with his supposedly rigid father (and I say "supposedly" because I often found myself agreeing more with him than with his son), Coelho faced depression, an inferiority complex for feeling ugly and the rejection of his books, before finally becoming the author whose “The Alchemist” would turn into a worldwide phenomenon by combining self-help and esotericism in a package with immense commercial appeal regardless of its literary merits. (No, I'm not a fan, although I appreciate some passages of “The Pilgrim”.)
Employing a non-chronological timeline that clearly seeks to disguise the lack of structure and the fact that the narrative is constructed through scenes that invariably invest in some drama or artificial conflict, this is the kind of movie that feels the need to always include a caption indicating the period in which a scene takes place every time it jumps—even if the costumes, the art direction and, well, the fact we have been watching the damn thing for an hour already made it pretty clear the decades we are visiting. However, hammering the audience with unnecessary exposition seems to be a hobby of this movie and, thus, it is no surprise when a character says "Paulo is my grandson" when addressing ... the boy's parents, who, I suppose, probably are aware of said kinship. Similarly, just in case we hadn’t noticed young Coelho’s ugliness complex, we would certainly become aware of it when we see him inviting a girl to dance just to hear the girl's mother say "But precisely the weirdest and ugliest boy in the whole party?", in a very natural reaction if you are a caricature in a film that treats the one-dimensionality of its characters as a rule.
Interestingly, at other times that deserved at least some explanation, "Paulo Coelho’s Best Story" simply expects us to accept certain incidents without questioning their logic—as in the scene where the protagonist participates in a children's play when an actor conveniently fails to show up: after throwing himself on the floor, reciting a poem and throwing a candy to the audience, the hero is cheered by the children, who inexplicably start chanting his name. And, of course, when his musical partnership with Raul Seixas (Ferreira, perfect) is portrayed, both men are seen creating some of their most iconic songs through dialogue that simply quotes the lyrics without any insight into the duo’s creative process.