The most surprising thing about Book Club is that it—or a movie just like it—wasn’t made earlier. Most films today are geared toward teenage boys—and adults who think like teenage boys. But teenage boys have all sorts of distractions: video games, YouTube, Instagram, streaming content on every device known to man. You know who still goes to actual movies in actual movie theaters? Old people, that’s who! And this bit of slick, Nancy Meyers-esque, rom-com escapism is exactly what the doctor ordered (along with regular exercise and a daily dose of Lipitor).
I have a few quibbles with the film: With a few exceptions, most of the film’s “jokes” warrant little more than a mild chuckle.The film’s terrible attempts to photoshop old pictures of the gang are so bad, I began to wonder if they were intentionally bad. And would it have killed the producers to add a woman of color (or two) to this aging group of besties? (Phylicia Rashad is a phone call away, people!) Still, it’s hard to deny the film's charm, largely fueled by the insane star wattage of its cast.
Here’s the premise: Four best friends, all over 65, decide to read the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy in their book club. This stirs romantic and, er, other kinds of longing in them. They each represent a particular (wealthy) archetype: Vivian (Jane Fonda) is the sexy hotel owner who still gets laid on the regular but who fears commitment and rejection; Diane (Diane Keaton) is the widow whose adult children (Alicia Silverstone and Katie Aselton) are ready to put her out to pasture; Sharon (Candice Bergen) is the divorced judge who thinks her romance and sex days are long behind her; and Carol (Mary Steenburgen) is experiencing a bit of a romantic rut with her husband, Bruce (Craig T. Nelson)—they haven’t been intimate in months.
The notorious book, which is quoted occasionally (“I don’t have sex. I f—k. Hard,” the gal pals repeat, collapsing into a fit of giggles), is really just the loosest of threads on which to hang the plot. Each woman is given her own romantic entanglement. Vivian is cautiously reconnecting with a rakish old lover (Don Johnson)—the one who got away. Diane has met a sexy, flirty, impossibly wealthy pilot (Andy Garcia), who is more than a little smitten with her. Sharon tries her hand at Internet dating, leading to some work-place embarrassment for the dignified judge. And a desperate Carol drops Viagra in Bruce’s drink, with predictably disastrous results. The point is life-affirming and pat, but honestly still needs to be said—people over 65 want and deserve love and sex, too!
One thing I absolutely loved about these stories—Garcia and Johnson are considerably younger than their female counterparts, and this is barely acknowledged, if at all. Lord knows there are have been enough films where a female love object is a decade (or two) younger than the male lead and it goes unmentioned. Kudos to director Bill Holderman for this welcome bit of subversion.
Book Club completely delivers on the promise of its trailer. Which is to say, if it looks appealing to you, you will probably love it. If it looks like the kind of glossy, formulaic, comforting fluff you wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole, by all means, stay away. I, for one, could use some glossy, formulaic, comforting fluff in my life from time to time.