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Hello, Bookstore (Film Review)

3 min read

Anyone who's been inside an independent bookshop for any amount of time will have experienced a lot of what Hello, Bookstore was originally supposed to be. Set in what appears to be somewhat of a local landmark in Lenox, Massachusetts, we're given a firsthand view of a space that only exists because the person in charge of it cares so much for it. Matt Tannenbaum loves books, and he loves sharing his love for them just as much. His philosophy is that there's a book for everyone, and this little independent bookshop is the vehicle for his crusade to help everyone discover theirs. If that's as far as this ever went, it still would've been a worthwhile and beautiful story to tell. However, during shooting, a new challenge arose: the Covid-19 pandemic. 

What starts as a sweet little fly-on-the-wall view of one man's passion project turns into a story of desperate survival. The backdrop is one of difficult circumstances becoming near impossible as everything turns against him. The idea of shutting his doors for any extended period of time is one that threatens his livelihood. He doesn't have an e-commerce platform, and he relies on the custom of people who simply believe it's the right thing to choose to buy from him rather than Amazon. In this case, his adversity presents a generous dose of life-affirming sweetness. 

He keeps the shop open by offering a curb-side pick-up option. Customers can browse the website, look at pictures of the books, and decide what to buy, they just can't actually buy the book online. They have to come to the shop and interact with Matt to do that still. In its own way, his technical limitations create a situation where he can continue to share his love for literature as before, just a little differently. This is where Hello, Bookstore becomes such an important story to tell. We observe Matt's loneliness in what had always been such a social space, and the fear created by the financial implications of having to do business in such a novel way. This is the side of the pandemic that simply didn't make the headlines. 

Hello, Bookstore becomes a time capsule for a moment in history by sheer luck, but that shouldn't downplay what a fantastic film it is at its heart. Incredible restraint is shown by director in the way it tells its story. We're simply left to experience the atmosphere of the bookshop without any intervention or influence. How we perceive what's going on is up to us, and there's a level of trust that we'll take what we're supposed to from it. What we get as a result is a fast-tracked privilege of what it must be like to have been a regular customer of Matt's for years and years. 

By the end, there is a genuine feeling that this is a place that is as much a part of our lives as it is anyone else's. We're just as invested in the bookshop's survival as a regular in Lenox, Massachusetts should be because now it's our bookshop too. We've been there for its moments of beautiful mundanity, just as much as we've been through its times of uncertainty and impending doom. The constant that ties it all together, though, is Matt's unwavering drive to share with us what he loves. 

To an extent, it reaches a point where it almost doesn't matter whether the bookshop survives or not. Matt's purpose in life appears to be to act as a conduit for others to discover their own love of literature. The existence of Hello, Bookstore gives him the potential to reach far more people than just the residents of his own town, and for that reason alone it's a film that carries a rich and precious purpose.

presents Hello, Bookstore in Cinemas and On Demand 30 June 2023