Most people don’t stop and think about the ramifications of reading romance novels.
Director Julie Moggan thought about it for a year straight.
The resulting documentary, Guilty Pleasures, is a tender and hilarious exploration of Harlequin books and their effects on the lives of everyone from the writers to the readers to the scantily-clad cover models. Told through five interwoven stories—two couples, a single woman and two single men—the film offers a candid look at the divide between storybook romance and realities that are not quite so glamorous.
Roger Sanderson, who writes for Harlequin under the pseudonym Gill Sanderson, essentially narrates the film. He breaks down the writing process—there is in fact a rigid formula to which almost all romance novels adhere—as well as the business and production aspects. Bald and bespectacled, he is living proof that fairy-tale love stories are the stuff of imagination.
Cover model Stephen proves consistently uproarious, detailing with brazen honesty the blessings and sacrifices that come with being thirty, single and really, really, ridiculously good-looking.
And then there are the women.
One—a demure Japanese housewife—longs for her husband to whisk her away like one of the heroes from her favorite books. Another, in India, hopes her life will follow a familiar story so that her estranged husband will return. The third, an Englishwoman, simply uses the books to break the monotony of everyday routine and to add some spark to a long and otherwise healthy marriage.
Moggan expertly weaves their stories together, portraying even their flaws with grace and dignity. The film may be about fictional romance, but the characters in Guilty Pleasures prove that the quest for love is just as powerful—and much funnier—in real life.