FILM REVIEW – BOOK CLUB. With Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, Mary Steenburgen, Andy Garcia. Written by Bill Holderman, Erin Simms. Directed by Bill Holderman. Rated PG-13 for sex-related material throughout, and for language. 97 minutes.
With superhero movies, broad comedies, and the like flooding the theaters at the outset of the summer movie season, Hollywood usually has a film or two to release as counterprogramming. BOOK CLUB is a film that will resonate with older viewers who complain no one’s making movies for them. It’s also a reminder that there are filmmakers who remember how to make romantic comedies, but these days they need a gimmick to get it made.
The premise of “Book Club” is that four older women end up with “Fifty Shades of Grey” as their next book. Quite apart from the quality of the writing (or lack thereof), it’s the sexual frankness of the story that gets them all contemplating their own sex lives. Vivian (Jane Fonda), is a wealthy hotel owner who enjoys sex but not relationships. Her life is complicated when an old flame (Don Johnson) reappears in her life. Carol (Mary Steenburgen) is in a successful marriage but her husband (Craig T. Nelson) seems to have lost all interest in intimacy. Sharon (Candice Bergen) is a judge who has been alone since her divorce eighteen years earlier, but now enters the world of computer dating. Most interesting of all is Diane (Diane Keaton), a widow who meets someone new (Andy Garcia), but whose two daughters treat her like she’s an invalid.
The script by Bill Holderman (who makes his directorial debut here) and Erin Simms divides its time between the four friends discussing their lives and then following their differing stories. If the plots are a little too pat – you’ll anticipate the “surprise” in Carol’s story before it occurs – there’s a certain pleasure in watching four veteran actresses not only act their age but treat getting older as a new chapter rather the end of the line.
This is a movie told very much from the woman’s perspective, but there’s no lack of star quality among the men. In addition to Johnson, Nelson, and Garcia, Richard Dreyfuss and Wallace Shawn pop up as two of Sharon’s dates, and Ed Begley, Jr. appears as Sharon’s ex-husband, engaged to a woman young enough to be his daughter. However, unlike some films that have too many stars and too many stories, the four storylines here are deftly juggled so that they are clearly told, and we see the four friends interacting beyond the book club scenes.
There are a bit too many sex jokes that would be more appropriate in an Adam Sandler movie (such as Carol spiking her husband’s beer with Viagra), but that simply underscores the theme of the movie that these four women aren’t ready to give up love or sex just because they’re no longer in the bloom of youth. While there have been several films that focus on older men (“Last Vegas” being only one of them), it’s rare to have a take on older women like this.
“Book Club” may be lightweight, but it’s entertaining and raises some serious issues. Perhaps more important, it’s a movie for people who have no interest in superheroes.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.