Female Friends Rediscover Romance in Sweet, Saucy, Grown-Up Comedy
Starring Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, Diane Keaton & Mary Steenburgen
Directed by Bill Holderman
In a fight between a motor-mouthed superhero and four female friends “of a certain age,” who do think will win?
That’s not really hypothetical, as this past weekend, Marvel’s highly anticipated Deadpool 2 hit screens at the same time as this chick flick, about a group of women whose lives are comedically disrupted when their book club decides to read E.L. James’ steamy Fifty Shades of Grey. The novel, about a spicy, S&M-flavored relationship, puts them all in the mood to rediscover romance anew, reignite old flames or strike out on bold new sexual adventures.
Of course, the intended audiences for the two movies are quite different. The box-office battle is real, but the other issue is whether moviegoers will flock to this star-packed, character-rich comedy that’s clearly being served up as a customized, over-50, and fem-centric multi-plex counteroffer to Hollywood’s typical fare, usually aimed at male targets and much younger.
Vivian (Jane Fonda), Sharon (Candice Bergen), Diane (Diane Keaton) and Carol (Mary Steenburgen) play bestie girlfriends in Los Angeles who’ve been meeting monthly for 40 years to discuss books, sip wine and catch up with each other.
Vivian, never married, is a successful hotel magnate. Sharon’s a federal judge whose ex-husband (Ed Begley Jr.) has just hooked up with a much younger woman. Recent widower Diane is being pestered by her two adult children (Katie Aselton, from TV’s Legion, and Alicia Silverstone), who want to relocate her to live with them in Arizona. The passion has gone from the longtime marriage of Carol and her husband, Bruce (Craig T. Nelson).
When Vivian plops down Fifty Shades of Grey as her monthly selection at the book club, it’s a game changer. At first, her three friends are surprised, even a bit shocked.
“To even be holding this book is embarrassing,” says Bergen’s buttoned-up magistrate.
But soon enough, the women are shopping for sexy evening wear, looking for love online and finding their own shades of excitement with partners old and new.
The four lead actresses make for an iconic lineup; between them, they’ve got a stack of five Emmys and four Oscars, and a line of classic movies that includes Barberella, Klute, Coming Home, Carnal Knowledge, The Godfather, Anne Hall, Manhattan and Melvin and Howard.
Here, all that star power folds into an easygoing groove and a casual comedic chemistry; you feel like these four golden gals really are the old friends they’re pretending to be, and you laugh along with them as they gleefully discover things about themselves, reawaken old passions and forge ahead into new chapters of their love lives.
The movie is rated PG-13, but there’s plenty of tee-hee, sitcom-level humor as the women make cracks about the book, sex and their life situations. Sharon refers the long-neglected nether region of her body as “the cave of forgotten dreams.” Carol, totally engrossed in Fifty Shades, overwaters a houseplant; we watch the monitoring gauge in the soil move from “Moist” to “Wet.” Bruce has an unexpected encounter with Viagra—and a policewoman.
Sometimes the movie plies the sex jokes, puns and metaphors on a little too thick; it’s like writer/director Bill Holderman wanted to squeeze in every possible idea, somewhere, somehow. Yes, we get it: Bruce’s prized motorcycle is meant to represent his misplaced affections for his wife. We don’t need a stream of “lube,” “grease” and “crankshaft” jokes, spread over four different scenes.
But the real tale of Book Club, however, is the multi-tiered love story that it unfolds as all the characters explore and expand their romantic vistas. Don Johnson will be an audience favorite as Arthur, Vivian’s dashing beau from the past. But it’s Andy Garcia who practically steals the show, as the smooth-talking airplane seatmate who takes wing with Diane’s heart.
Richard Dreyfuss has a laugh-out-loud scene as a Bumble blind date, and Wallace Shawn gets several chuckles out of his quick moment as a surgeon suitor.
Sweet, funny, feisty, romantic and aglow with the playful, sentimental warmth of friendships nurtured over time, Book Club is a charming, grown-up feel-good movie, with just the right amount of saucy seasoning, for mature audiences—especially if they’re not in the mood for a sassy superhero.
In theaters May 18, 2018