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Book Club – The Next Chapter (A Movie Review)


Starring Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, Mary Steenburgen, Craig T. Nelson, Giancarlo Giannini, Andy García, Don Johnson, Vincent Riotta and Hugh Quarshie.

Screenplay by Bill Holderman & Erin Simms.

Directed by Bill Holderman.

Distributed by Focus Features. 108 minutes. Rated PG-13.

Five years ago, Book Club did something rather subversive. It took four actresses of a certain age – some of the biggest names in Hollywood 30-40 years ago, but for whom lead roles had become scarce as they grew older – and put them all together in a light romantic comedy. It added in some other past-their-prime former stars – Don Johnson, Andy Garcia, Craig T. Nelson, Richard Dreyfuss, Alicia Silverstone and more – to give the star-studded cast a sheen of quality probably stronger than the sweet but formulaic script.

Book Club was not the first entertainment that recognized the dearth of options for older audiences – the TV series Grace and Frankie, co-starring Book Club star Jane Fonda, had cracked the code of hiring aging superstars for Netflix a few years earlier. However, Book Club made it obvious that there was an aging demographic just looking for an excuse to go back to theaters.

Of course, a lot has changed in the five years since Book Club. First of all, the film’s popularity spawned a bunch of copycat films – often with some of the same cast members as Book Club – which tended to be pretty horrible. Films like 80 For Brady, Poms, Senior Moment, Moving On and more came and went quickly, not being embraced artistically or popularly.

Honestly, all of those films were pretty horrible. Of course, no one can even call the original Book Club a great movie either, but it was charming and likable. Therefore, I kind of was looking forward to the release of Book Club: The Next Chapter when it came out earlier this year. I ended up missing it during its short theatrical run, but now that it is being released on video, I have finally caught up with it.

First things first – Book Club: The Next Chapter is nowhere near as good as the first film. It’s much more predictable, over-the-top and relies on too many coincidences. It’s also more sitcomish, much sappier, and kind of squanders the talent in front of the camera. And yet, no matter what, damned if the movie didn’t kind of catch me out a bit. I can’t say I exactly liked it, but I did find myself invested in the characters and their story arcs, even when my brain told me I was being very blatantly manipulated.

This is mostly because of the terrific old pros starring in the film, who are almost always able to sell the questionable dialogue they were given. Plus there was a lot of absolutely gorgeous footage of Italy which was almost worth the trip by itself.

A major change since the original film’s release was the pandemic. Smartly, The Next Chapter embraces that colossal world event as part of the story. The friends who have been together through thick and thin haven’t seen each other in years, eventually having to settle with weekly Zoom meetings of the book club. (And as soon as you see that scenario, if you don’t predict that one of them will get stuck with a filter over their face that they can’t get rid of, then you’re just not trying hard enough.)

In the time since the first film, Keaton’s Diane and Fonda’s Viv have been playing house with their shiny new (old) boyfriends from the first film (Garcia and Johnson). Bergen’s Sharon has retired from her judgeship and is living alone with her beloved cat. Steenburgen’s Carol has had to close her restaurant due to the pandemic and is now doting on her husband (Nelson), who has recently had a heart attack.

When they are finally able to see each other again after the long break, they decide it is the ideal time to take their long-ago dream trip to Italy when the serial singleton Viv finally decides to take the plunge and get married.

Candace Bergen is still the secret weapon of Book Club, the funniest and most cynical member of their little tribe. Her character’s path doesn’t exactly make sense compared to the first film, though. In the first film she was a long-divorced woman who hadn’t dated in years, but finally was talked into computer dating by her friends. She was awkwardly getting back into the dating scene. By The Next Chapter she seems to be a love-‘em-and-leave-‘em type of lothario who just hooks up with guys and moves on. Considering she was stuck quarantining at home alone for much of that time, I’m not sure when she would have had time to get so comfortable with her sexuality after decades of discomfort.

On a side note for Candace’s plot thread – there is a cold place in Hell for writers who cheerfully kill off a pet cat simply as a plot point for the advancement of their story.

The “book club” aspect of the story is pretty much abandoned in this sequel. In the first film, a specific piece of literature was the backdrop for most of the storyline. Strangely enough that book was 50 Shades of Grey – but it did propel the storyline and some of the character developments. In The Next Chapter several books are mentioned in passing – including Normal People, The Woman in the Window and even 50 Shades again, but the only book that is referred to multiple times is Paolo Coelho’s The Alchemist, and even that one is not really dwelled upon.

Does Book Club have probably too much star-power for its modest charms? Probably. Still as a light diversion about friendship and gorgeous Italian scenery, you can do a whole hell of a lot worse than Book Club: The Next Chapter.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2023 All rights reserved. Posted: July 11, 2023.


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