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Review: "Book Club"

by Chris Feil

2018 summer superhero movie season has peaked, now with the arrival of its definitive chapter: Book Club, where Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, and Mary Steenburgen read Fifty Shades of Grey and reclaim the romance in their lives. Think they can’t handle not one but a slew of Thanoses? Well, consider that they are also teaming up with four Oscars, six Emmys, twelve Golden Globes, and several cases of pinot grigio.

Steenburgen is the entrepreneurial straight shooter Carol, the one most in tuned to her own needs but perhaps not to others’. As Sharon, Candice Bergen battles her timid seriousness against the need for a new beginning. Fonda’s Vivian is the group individualist, drinking rosé when the rest prefer white, hating everyone else’s favorite book selections. And Diane Keaton as... Diane (it’s really something to see Diane Keaton do Diane Keaton drag) is the guarded one, initially seeming to be the least distinct character but ultimately reveals a woman burying much of what she thinks and feels.

The setup however is mostly just a placeholder for an angle for an ensemble friend comedy, and that’s just fine. Beyond a montage or two of chuckles at some risque bits, Book Club is only tangentially associated to the Fifty Shades series devoured by its central friend group. And why should it be more - after all, the best parts of any book club is what comes after (such as: more wine!) or the reverberations the text creates in your own life.

If viewers were wary of the potential for Book Club to be a series of agist sex jokes told at the expense of its starring legends, they will be surprised to find a rather sex positive and uncondescending spirit in the film. And it doesn’t just delight in the comedic side of coping with erectile dysfunction, or rejoining the dating world, or getting to bang a hot pilot on his mountainside ranch. Its heart is in revealing the conflicted, often undiscussed emotional baggage of these women as they each find themselves in uncharted personal terrain.

It’s also a film that gives us Keaton floating in a robe on an inflatable unicorn and Steenburgen tap dancing to Meat Loaf, so don’t think its wild delights are too tempered either. What other film in recent memory can land a bawdy Werner Herzog joke this well?

But despite its lively sweetness, Book Club seldom escapes filling like it is missing a crucial ingredient. Perhaps some of the lag is that we are given long stretches between the scenes of the foursome together and once we finally get to see them interact, the dynamic between them is a bit muddy. This only serves to make the book club premise even more strained and obligatory to formula instead of organically showcasing their bond. You want more of them together and something richer when they are together.

This quartered structure separating the women’s narrative becomes rigid, but does allow for each to shine as we would hope. The standout of the pack is Bergen, delightfully dry and charmingly ill at ease as a long divorced but just now on the market shy gal. As Bergen allows some of Sharon’s guards to drop abruptly and others with much more trepidation, we’re given the most complete story in the layers of Bergen’s performance. It’s simply lovely to see her having this much fun again.

The film lacks a more specific identity that could elevate it to highly rewatchable status and does frustrate as a partly missed opportunity, more pleasing and fleetingly wild than thoroughly entertaining. But Book Club is a simple antidote to the summer glut, an inoffensive romp that takes its female characters seriously without taking itself too seriously.

Grade: B-

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Reader Comments (10)

Like "The Greatest Showman", if we want to see movies like this, we need to spend our Entertainment Dollar wisely, and spread the social media too.

This looks like Nancy Meyers lite, if that's possible, but fun!

May 18, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterforever1267

Has there ever been a funny Viagra joke?

May 18, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterken s

All the pics I've seen look terrible so I'll take that B+ as my guiding light.

May 18, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Golden Globe chances??

May 18, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDAVID

"bawdy Werner Herzog joke" - oooh.

I saw a preview for this, and while it doesn't seem groundbreaking, I know I will watch it eventually because of the four legends in the cast.

May 18, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca


May 19, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJessica Chastain

Adored both Bergen and Keaton (and Garcia!), liked Fonda and unfortunately, thought Steenburgen kind of drew the short straw here. Overall, had a ball!

May 19, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew Carden

This film wasn't the best. But it's pretty great to know we know live in a world where a so-so film about 4 over-60 women can get made and turn a decent profit.

Candace was the true standout here (and I wouldn't mind seeing a globe nomination). This character is distinct from her other big two on television, though still very much a boomer professional. She just has such perfect comedic timing and is able to make her emotional moments land largely because she weave it throughout. I didn't realize how much I've missed seeing her in big television shows or films carrying her storyline.

Keaton is bumbly and hilarious and really full of life. Her story, like Bergen's, also feels the most complete.

The editing, though, is odd - it's almost like they cut whole parts of scenes out last minute. Like when they're drinking wine then "time goes by" and they start yelling - it's rather abrupt to the point of distraction.

Not a great film, but glad these 4 ladies are on our screens again. Hopefully there will be more "boomer comedies," and even better ones from these actresses to come.

May 21, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJoe

Also, Andy Garcia is still a total stud.

May 21, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJoe

Highly recommend Steenburgen's appearance on "What's the Tee?" She's very generous with her time (it's a looong interview) and keeps it very real. She knows she's the least iconic woman of the bunch and just sounds thrilled to be part of Book Club.

May 22, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterHayden

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