Directed by: Bill Holderman
Premise: A group of elderly women (Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, Mary Steenburgen) read the Fifty Shades of Grey series. Inspired by the novels, their interest in sex and romance is reignited.
What Works: Book Club is intended as a lighthearted diversion and viewers who aren’t looking for anything more than that ought to come away from this movie feeling they got what they paid for. The movie is most watchable whenever the four lead actresses are together. Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, and Mary Steenburgen are a likeable group. Each of them is a distinct character with their own romantic challenge. Keaton’s character is a widow, Fonda and Bergen plays professionals who are long divorced, and Steenburgen is cast as a married woman whose bedroom has gone dead. Their banter is fun and Keaton, Fonda, Bergen, and Steenburgen are convincing as friends who have known each other for decades. Book Club is edited pretty well. It balances each woman’s screen time and transitions smoothly between their stories.
What Doesn’t: Each subplot of Book Club is its own mini-romantic comedy and the movie offers the audience a sampler of genre tropes. We’re served the widow learning to love again, the promiscuous character who finally makes a genuine connection, the professional who lets her guard down, and of course the housewife suffocating under suburban malaise. Their stories adhere to romantic comedy templates and walk the audience through nearly every cliché the genre has to offer. Because of its adherence to convention, there’s no suspense to any of these women’s stories. Each subplot hits its marks and arrives at crisis points at the same time but when the couples go through their breakup there’s never any doubt that they will eventually patch things up and live happily ever after. While that’s part of what the core audience probably wants out of Book Club, the film is emotionally flat. Love stories are about heartache and this film is about women rediscovering physical and emotional passion. Book Club is devoid of that. There is no sense that the women actually experience anything and for a movie about sexual reawakening Book Club is remarkably unsexy. The filmmakers don’t have any interest in intimacy or the fortitude to actually portray elderly sexuality nor do they attempt to make this film in any way sensual. That’s doubly strange because the women are prompted by reading Fifty Shades of Grey. The books were renowned for their visceral descriptions and racy S&M details. The Fifty Shades of Grey books are little more than a prop; Book Club generally ignores the content of the books either in terms of plot or sexuality or the novel’s troublingly abusive relationship. The inclusion of Fifty Shades of Grey in Book Club comes across as a crassly commercial decision. It’s a cynical product placement that has nothing to do with the stories of these characters or the content E. L. James’ books.
Bottom Line: Book Club isn’t a good film but undemanding viewers will probably be sufficiently entertained by it. The cast is likable enough but it’s a vacuous and clichéd piece of work.
Episode: #700 (May 27, 2018)