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Book Club (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jul 11, 2023

Book Club

BOOK CLUB (2018)

Starring Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, Mary Steenburgen, Don Johnson, Andy Garcia, Craig T. Nelson, Richard Dreyfuss, Alicia Silverstone, Katie Aselton, Ed Begley Jr., Wallace Shawn, Tommy Dewey, Mircea Monroe, Matt Riedy, Adam Huber, Ravi Kapoor, Joey Stromberg, Sabina Friedman-Seitz and Lili Bordán.

Screenplay by Bill Holderman and Erin Simms.

Directed by Bill Holderman.

Distributed by Paramount Pictures. 104 minutes. Rated PG-13.

It’s funny to think that if a movie was made with Book Club’s cast 40 years ago, it would be one of the biggest blockbusters of the year, not just a small, sweet comedy intended for a niche audience.

Just think, in 1978 this cast would have slayed. You have icons Jane Fonda (two-time Oscar Winner), Diane Keaton (Oscar Winner) and Candice Bergen (Oscar Nominee). In fairness, Mary Steenburgen was just starting to become big at that time and would have to wait a few more years before winning her Oscar.

And that is just the women. The supporting men who play their romantic interests were also big deals: Don Johnson (Miami Vice), Andy Garcia (Ocean’s 11), Richard Dreyfuss (Jaws) and Craig T. Nelson (Coach). Then, pepper in some more formerly biggish names in smallish roles just because, like Wallace Shawn (The Princess Bride), Ed Begley Jr. (St. Elsewhere) and Alicia Silverstone (Clueless).

That’s one hell of a cast.

Well, time waits for no one – particularly not for aging actresses in a Hollywood obsessed with youth – so this spectacular cast was probably not even all that hard to line up. It’s a little sad, really.

Is this group of actors a bit too good for this feature-length sitcom? Probably, yes. But they also make it eminently watchable and rise above the slightly trite concept and sometimes-clichéd script with the confidence of the seasoned pros that they are. This cast makes Book Club better than it probably has any right to be.

It’s sort of like the female version of Last Vegas from a few years ago, which starred Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, Michael Douglas and Kevin Kline – and Mary Steenburgen again! – in a slight, but ultimately entertaining bromance comedy.

This time around, the four friends are women, four LA gal pals who have been meeting for years to discuss books over lots and lots of wine and gossip. Things get shaken up a little when one of the friends decides to use EL James’ Fifty Shades of Grey as the monthly topic of conversation. This starts them contemplating their lives and whether they have become stagnant sexually.

The four pretty much cover the spectrum of relationships. Vivian (Fonda) is a never-married commitment-phobe. Carol (Steenburgen) has a mostly-happy marriage that has lost its heat. Sharon (Bergen) is a bitter long-time divorcee who has given up on dating. Diane (Keaton) is a recent widow who still feels guilty for moving on a year after her husband’s death.

As their eyes are opened by the erotic freedom of the book, each one finds themselves in their own romantic drama. Viv runs into the guy (Johnson) she let get away 40 years earlier. Diane gets swept off her feet by a surprisingly rich airline pilot (Garcia). After 16 years out of the game, Sharon decides to give online dating a try, meeting several guys, including a sweet divorcé (Dreyfuss). Carol does everything she can think of to spice up her relationship with her husband (Nelson).

There are a bunch of little subplots brewing as well. Diane’s daughters (Silverstone and Katie Aselton) have become determined she can’t take care of herself alone and want her to move to Arizona with them. Sharon is trying to come to terms with her ex’ remarriage to a much younger girl. And Vivian and Carol are trying to keep things hopping in their businesses (a luxury hotel and a gourmet restaurant) while dealing with their romantic lives.

This kind of “seniors need sex too” concept has become a little bit of a sub-genre in recent years. (Vivian has more than a glancing similarity to Fonda’s Grace character in the hit Netflix sitcom Grace & Frankie – which also has a stunningly good cast of old-timers, by the way.)

It does make you wonder a bit about their literary tastes. Fifty Shades of Grey mania feels so 2011, and while it was an astonishing publishing phenomenon, no one ever really claimed that it was a good book. But, luckily fairly early on they pretty much dump Christian Grey and his book from the plotline and only periodically tap back into that particular vein.

Is Book Club a great movie? No, of course not. However, greatly due to its star-power, perhaps aged, but still undimmed, it is still a lot of fun. With a lesser cast, this material would probably be pretty disposable. However, the fact that Book Club gives all these terrific actors a chance to work their magic makes it well worth seeing.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2018 All rights reserved. Posted: May 18, 2018.

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