Whilst a movie like Book Club will never be considered a career highlight for its lead quartet of generationally-stellar actresses (there are too many Oscars and Emmys between Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen and Mary Steenburgen to pretend otherwise), the fact that these ageing talents are at the centre of a Hollywood feature – a sex comedy, no less – is some sort of industry miracle.
Yes, there’s lowbrow jokes that are far beneath them and maybe there’s a bit too much Vaseline smeared on the lens at times, but it’s all very easily forgiven when the players on hand are as experienced as those we delight in watching on-screen for a breezy 100 minutes.
The premise at hand is less exciting, though thankfully the ensemble involved is strong enough for us to forget how fluffy a script Erin Simms and director Bill Holderman have assembled. The referenced book club is that of the monthly meeting the recently widowed Diane (Keaton, downplaying her normal neuroticism), no-nonsense federal judge Sharon (Bergen), perennially single (and incredibly sexually active) hotel owner Vivian (Fonda, still an absolute knockout), and bubbly chef Carol (Steenburgen) formed some 40-years ago, and have upheld the tradition ever since.
We’re unsurprised when Vivian suggests Fifty Shades of Grey as the next month’s read, and though the other three all audibly describe their distaste for E.L. James’ prose (if that’s what they can even be considered) it isn’t long before they’re chapters deep in the “love story”; Bergen assuredly points out one of the many flaws in the book’s narrative by saying how she easily could’ve charged Christian Grey on multiple accounts of assault.
Though it would be easy to accuse the film of being a little late to the party (Fifty Shades is well past its prime), the introduction of the book is merely a convenient plot device to push the women forward on their individual journeys of sexual re-awakenings; Diane, feeling smothered by her adult children (Katie Aselton and Alicia Silverstone), opts to take a chance with flirty pilot Mitchell (Andy Garcia) in a bid to let go of her deceased husband; Vivian, always there for the night but never the morning, feels like her perfect match may be the one she let get away some three decades prior (Don Johnson); Sharon, irked at her ex-husband’s new engagement, decides to give online dating a trial (Richard Dreyfuss and Wallace Shawn her two suitors); and Carol seeks a little spice in her sexually-downtrodden marriage to Bruce (Craig T. Nelson), who’d rather ride a motorcycle than his ready-and-willing wife.
It’s all very obvious as to how Book Club will climax (pun not intended) and along the way the jokes both crackle with surprisingly sharp wit and fizzle with groan-inducing predictability, but we ultimately accept the flaws as the film proves entertaining enough to pass the time with a quartet of women, who even when saddled with mediocre material, rise to the occasion time and time again.
About Book Club
Four lifelong friends have their lives forever changed after reading 50 Shades of Grey in their monthly book club.
Book Club (M) is released in Australian cinemas from 23rd August 2018.