Book Club review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
“I don’t make love, I like to f**ck.”
These censored lines from one of the ladies of an elderly book club perfectly sum up the routine romance of Book Club. It’s a film that wants to showcase how its four leading ladies of many years can still get down and dirty when seeking sex but never too dirty. It’s all too fitting that their current book of the moment is Fifty Shades of Grey, a guilty pleasure romance fantasy that inspires them to get off their butts and pursue men once more. As I stated in my review of the Fifty Shades of Grey movie, that’s a film for those who want something erotic but nothing too erotic or moving; just kink for the sake of kink, never feeling genuine. Book Club is a simulation of that audience.
The quartet of novel and wine consumers is at least a strong one. Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, and Mary Steenburgen are a strong ensemble with much experience but they’re taking it easier in this film. They effortlessly breeze through a film that requires them to drink wine, giddily talk about sex, and make the most basic of jokes about growing old and keeping the flame going. Keaton plays Diane (well, that’s easy to remember), a mother with nosy kids who want her to move in with them so they can keep a closer eye on their mom’s health. That’s stressful enough but her situation becomes all the more embarrassing when a handsome airplane pilot (Andy García) cleverly convinces her to go on a date. And you better believe there’s a silly scene where the pilot and her children will meet each other in an awkward scenario. The childish music score of cartoonish comedy all but assures this moment in the forecast.
Jane Fonda plays Vivian, a highly successful hotel owner that finds herself hooking up with an old flame, played by Don Johnson, who also rolls out the red carpet for her. He comes off as effortlessly charming and Vivian continues the dating dance to see if he’s still worth coming back to. Mary Steenburgen plays Carol, a woman married to Craig T. Nelson, playing a husband more interested in reviving his old motorcycle than their sex life. Carol’s attempts at flirtation are cringe-worthy at best, bringing her Fifty Shades of Gray fantasies to his garage, believing zip-ties are intended for bondage and dismayed when her man won’t tie her up. Candice Bergen plays Sharon as a woman who is mostly wasted as a developer of a dating app, seemingly embarrassed to be seen with her date played by Wallace Shawn. I’m not saying beggers can’t be choosers but you could do a lot worse than an eccentric Wallace Shawn with charm and hobbies in being a DJ.
All of the standard elderly romantic comedy tropes are at play. The easy jokes are delivered with plenty of puns and innuendos the women become inspired to make from their Grey readings. The comradery feels passive with the foursome assembling for drinks and openly discussing sex with laughs while they try on outfits for their latest dates. And I swear it must seem obligatory now that these films feature some song and dance number to prove that old people still have the moods. Despite being a spectacle of watching one of the women tap dance to Meatloaf, it still comes off far too standard, stretching those cute scenes for all their worth.
Book Club delivers exactly on what it promises as light and slightly-dirty romantic comedy for middle-aged women. It serves up the wine, the smirks, the modest sexuality, and the insistence that these women still got it. I just wish they had a script that would let them flaunt it more than take it easy. While these types of films showcase how age is nothing but a number, this format is certainly growing long in the tooth.