Book Club: The Next Chapter (2023)
Directed by: Bill Holderman
Premise: A sequel to the 2018 film. Partly inspired by the book The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, a group of septuagenarian friends travel to Italy for a bachelorette party.
What Works: The Book Club films are hangout movies. Narrative and theme are secondary to the relationship between the four female leads played by Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, and Mary Steenburgen and that is the strongest element of both films. The rapport between the characters is easy and affable. These women are convincing as lifelong friends and they are funny together. The films are also unique in that they don’t anesthetize older female characters. The women of Book Club are sexual and adventurous and get into silly scenarios.
What Doesn’t: The Book Club sequel is so set on maintaining its good time vibe that the filmmakers run away from any hint of conflict. The first film was also light but it at least had some tension in the women’s romantic lives as they faced the changing realities of love and sexuality in their senior years. The sequel has virtually no drama. Jane Fonda’s character is getting married and she has some prenuptial jitters but the wedding isn’t really in any peril. Mary Steenburgen’s character encounters an old flame but she’s never credibly tempted to cheat. The widow played by Diane Keaton copes with grief but this comes to nothing and Candice Bergen’s character has no conflicts at all. There are a few travel hiccups but nothing ever threatens to ruin the trip; early on the women’s luggage is stolen but even this is treated as a minor inconvenience. It’s admirable that the filmmakers evade the canned plot twists so often seen in these sorts of trip movies in which the characters predictably breakup and reunite but The Next Chapter is a big nothing. The lack of conflict or stakes combined with the displays of lavish wealth make this not only a flat and boring film but also an obnoxious one. The portrait of Italy and the characterization of Italian people is totally stereotypical; it’s like Team America’s depiction of other countries but without any of the irony or self-awareness. There are a few images that look like composite shots with the American actors standing in front of a green screen while the Italian setting is keyed in behind them. The Book Club sequel also fails to do anything meaningful with the book that supposedly inspired this adventure. Early on the women read The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho but unlike the use of Fifty Shades of Grey in the first film, The Alchemist has little bearing on the story of the sequel.
Bottom Line: Book Club: The Next Chapter is lighthearted to a fault. The core cast is likable but this film is hollow. There’s no substance to it and the Book Club sequel is Grown Ups 2 for wine moms.
Episode: #949 (May 21, 2023)