Film Review – Book Club
The movies have a problem with age. After a certain point in life, Hollywood seems to think either actors are too old to star in anything anymore or that audiences won’t care about anyone with a gray hair. And as bad as that is all around, at least men occasionally get a Liam Neeson type who gets to keep leading action movies that typically go to stars half his age. Women never get any such consideration. Yes, the very rare British actress the likes of a Helen Mirren or a Judi Dench get to continue having careers. But the odds are pretty slim that there are decent roles for Senior Citizen females.
Every once in a while we get a token comedy that celebrates age in the vein of The Bucket List or Last Vegas or the Going in Style remake. The problem with a lot of these though is that while they feature really great actors, the scripts are so sitcom-ish and lazy that the movie ends up being merely “pleasant company” instead of actually good film. In that middling tradition, along comes Book Club. I’m sure the elevator pitch was something along “It’s kind of like The Bucket List, but for the ladies”.
The film does feature a murderer’s row of A-list acting talent. 4 ladies who are each successful in their own right meet for a monthly Book Club mainly to drink wine and bond. Jane Fonda plays a never married hotelier who is career minded and likes to use men mainly as sexual partners. Candace Bergen is a respected judge who has been divorced for 18 years from a husband (Ed Begley Jr.) who is engaged to someone a third his age. Mary Steenburgen, a well known chef, is happily married to a recently retired Craig T. Nelson. And Diane Keaton is a widow whose grown daughters treat her like she is 20 years more senior than she actually is. The Fonda character proposes that the next book they read for their club is the “tee he” scandalous 50 Shades of Grey. Inspired by the book’s sexuality, they are all inspired in various ways to kindle or rekindle sexual relationships that many of them thought were behind them.
Just that plot summary is indicative of the kind of faux edginess this film portrays. Firstly, 50 Shades of Gray is a tepid inspiration for scandalous behavior at this point in pop culture. In the real world, most of us who consider Christian Gray and his bondage fetishes roll our eyes in embarrassed irritation. That story isn’t edgy, yet everyone in the film acts like it’s the dirtiest thing that’s ever happened. Please, if that book gets these ladies flustered, a two minute Google search using certain search terms might kill them. In fact, I understand that book is so poorly written, when Diane Keaton is on a plane trying to hide the book she’s reading, she should be embarrassed that she’s into something so dumb, not it’s content.
Also, Book Club would fail the Bechdel test severely. All 4 of these women’s stories in this film are defined by how they are relating to men at their age. Fonda’s character is having second thoughts about opening herself up to caring about an old flame warmly played by Don Johnson. Even though Bergen is a smart and imposing judicial figure, the film is only interested in her stumbling into the world of online dating. Keaton’s character is striking up a new romance with Andy Garcia and learning to love after the loss of her spouse. And Steenburgen is simply trying to re-fire her husband’s desire for her. These ladies are all touted as independent, but the film is mainly interested in their love lives.
Since these actresses are really great all around, they are able to elevate the material with sheer chemistry. They have a comfortable camaraderie together. And it is nice to see older women supporting each other in a film. But so much of it is clichéd. As if it were a Nancy Meyer movie, not a one of them has financial troubles. They all have lives that feature beautiful kitchens and well stocked closets. There is a good movie to be made about women getting a new lease late in life. But it needs to be better than this.
These actresses are all fun to watch, but they all deserve a better vehicle than this. It’s not actively bad, it’s just not particularly good.