STARS: Candice Bergen, Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton, Mary Steenburgen
DIRECTOR: Bill Holderman
GENRE: Romantic Comedy
I'm sitting inside a theater that's at least half full for a matinee performance, and having scanned the crowd, I'm quite certain I'm the only one with a member in attendance at this showing of Book Club. (To point out that it's a total chick flick would be like belaboring the obvious about a bear in the woods.) But the chance to see four icons of the silver screen--Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, Diane Keaton, and Mary Steenburgen-- playing off of one another in a never to be repeated event is too good to pass up.
Vivian (Jane Fonda) is a successful hotelier--cynical to the bone, who "never sleeps with anyone she really likes." Sharon (Candice Bergen) is a federal judge who is dabbling judiciously in online dating. Diane (Diane Keaton) is a widow with two condescending daughters who think that mom is ready to join the I've-Fallen-And-I-Can't-Get-Up crowd. She is far from that. And Carol (Mary Steenburgen) is a chef whose longtime marriage to Bruce (Craig T. Nelson) is in a real rut--and it's rutting that seems to be the issue.
The tie that binds the four ladies together is their book club, and this time they've selected Fifty Shades Of Grey to be their titillating read. This sets the table for some raunchy one-liners when they get together, none of which I thought were that funny, but it's "cute" because of their ages, right? In real life Steenburgen is 65; Fonda is 80; Keaton and Bergen are 72, but they pass off as contemporaries due to the wonders of cosmetic surgery that have kept Ms. Fonda looking like Barbie (or Barbarella) for all these years.
What works in this romantic comedy is not the comedy, but the romance, and the four separate story lines provide a lot of poignant moments. Richard Dreyfuss, Don Johnson, Andy Garcia, and Craig T. Nelson as the counterparts or potential partners for these ladies would be an impressive list of stars in any other film, were they not yielding the spotlight to these four heavyweights (oh go on...I mean that in a good way!) That and a soundtrack full of uplifting tunes that fit so well and hit all the right notes at the right times to manipulate your emotions. But you won't mind.
One scene that is funny is Richard Dreyfuss and Candice Bergen's characters out on a date--the chemistry between them is awesome. And a sight gag with Craig T. Nelson's character after his wife has slipped Viagra into his drink is particularly pointed.
So here we have a film that would be your run of the mill rom-com in every way, except that it's out to prove that love is ageless. And that's what sets it apart in a you-go-girl way. On the "negative" side, Book Club displays a bit too much of the jaw-dropping beauty of my home state, Arizona. I can hear the sound of folks packing their bags and heading west as we speak. All right then, if you must. I've been thinking of hiring out as a tour guide anyway.
Unlike Tim's movie experience, the AMC theater I attended was packed full of enthusiastic seniors ready to giggle their wrinkles away at four women dealing with the realities of sex after a certain age. Of course, not all over-70 ladies look like these four glamour gals. Nor do they find themselves on a plane, seated next to some ridiculously sexy pilot played to perfection by Andy Garcia (age 62). Nor do they bump into an old beau (Don Johnson, age 68) who, after a 40 year absence, looks like he belongs on the cover of GQ. (I had my own senior giggle, knowing that Johnson's daughter Dakota plays the female lead in the movie versions of Fifty Shades!) As unrelated as this feel-good film is to real life-- especially the online dating scene -- I'll bet my bloomers it'll be a box office biggie.
The dialogue is crisp. The situations, funny. And the ensemble acting is worth the price of admission. (Shockingly high here in southern California, I might add.) But the gal I went to the movie with pointed out how Jane Fonda seems to always be Jane Fonda in every role she plays. I'd have to agree with her. Then again, acting has never been a strong point with this uber in-shape daughter of a Hollywood legend. (The only film where I felt she exhibited some serious acting chops was On Golden Pond.)
There's a line Candice Bergen says that will remain with me long after I forget The Book Club: (and I'm paraphrasing here): "Love is just a word until someone makes it real." To me, that's right up there with "Love means never having to say you're sorry." (Love Story, 1970) "Hate put me in prison. Love's gonna bust me out." (The Hurricane, 1999) And, going way back, "Love is a song that never ends." (Bambi, 1942)
For something escapist with nary a car chase, or a robot taking over the universe, I highly recommend this romantic comedy. "Love never goes out of style." (Jill, 2018)