UK Release Date: 1st June 2018
Runtime: 103 minutes
Director: Bill Holderman
Writer: Bill Holderman, Erin Simms
Starring: Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton, Mary Steenburgen, Candice Bergen, Craig T Nelson, Andy Garcia, Don Johnson, Alicia Silverstone, Richard Dreyfuss
Synopsis: Four ageing women decide to bring sex back into their lives by ditching revered literature in favour of reading Fifty Shades of Grey at their usually cultured book club.
The title card of Book Club is accompanied by the popping cork of a champagne bottle and, in the scenes that follow, the sound becomes something of a mission statement. While teen movies see young partygoers sipping beer from tiny red cups, this is a movie in which older women glug industrial quantities of wine from glasses that hold enough liquid to fill an Olympic swimming pool and still have enough left over for a decent night out with the cast of Geordie Shore. This is a long way from the Marigold Hotel – it’s boozier, bawdier and altogether more unhinged. And in many ways, that’s its charm.
The story centres around a group of improbably successful and attractive women, who have been meeting for their monthly book club since 1974. Glamorous hotelier Vivian (Jane Fonda) suggests that the way to bring her friends out of their respective romantic barren periods is to encourage them all to read Fifty Shades of Grey. Reluctantly, they all agree, and soon widow Diane (Diane Keaton) becomes involved with a suave pilot (Andy Garcia) while uptight judge Sharon (Candice Bergen) has opened an online dating account. Meanwhile, married Carol (Mary Steenburgen) tries to encourage husband Bruce (Craig T Nelson) to be more adventurous and Vivian gets her own shock when an old flame (Don Johnson) reenters her life.
Anyone who has ever seen a romcom will be able to trace the precise story beats of Book Club, which adheres very neatly to formula – right up to its red and white poster with actors’ names in the wrong order above a picture of the ensemble. Without any narrative surprises, that leaves it up to the chemistry between the performers and the strength of the script from director Bill Holderman and co-writer Erin Simms. There are no problems on the former front, with all four central women bringing the most of their charisma and comedic ability to their roles. Bergen gets many of the best one-liners, while Steenburgen is tragically believable as a woman just trying to make her petrolhead husband notice her sexually.
The script, too, is fun. It’s 95% innuendo, like an episode of The Great British Bake Off taking place within a Carry On movie, and much of the innuendo lands its share of laughs. Book Club is unpretentiously silly in the best way and allows the audience to enjoy the spectacle of older women becoming sexually revved-up by one of the worst books ever written. The family-friendly certificate prevents the movie from being as frank as it perhaps should have been when it comes to sex, but any movie that depicts sexuality outside of tanned adonises rubbing against each other’s freakishly hairless bodies is something to be celebrated.
Book Club, unfortunately, loses its way when it moves into its third act. The sensibilities of the romcom format dictate that everything has to get a bit more serious and considerably mushier in the final 20 minutes and that is not something this movie is able to pull off. It’s a film that works best when it feels as if the audience is the fifth person in their circle of friends, sharing a comically enormous glass of Merlot and asking our friends whether they’ve ever been spanked before. Although, the third act does give us the line “she’s tap dancing to Meat Loaf… and she’s pulling it off”. That’s worth the price of admission on its own.
Pop or Poop?
Older people are having sex and Book Club is a movie that deserves credit for being willing to talk about it. The roster of actors is impressive and they bring all of their talent to roles that are surprisingly fleshed out, within the confines of a strict and rather tired romcom formula.
It all falls apart in the third act when things have to get serious but, when its silliness that abounds, this is a joyful night at the movies. Just make sure you bring your own bucket-sized wine glass.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.