When I heard about “Book Club’s” premise — four women “of a certain age” who have, for decades, been getting together to drink wine and discuss various books they’ve all read — I thought it could make for a fun and insightful film aimed at adults. When I subsequently found out that the story centered on their current reading choice of the notorious and reportedly badly written “Fifty Shades of Grey” (I wouldn’t know, as I never bothered to try it), I developed some qualms about whether I even wanted to see the film.
But the cast that made up the quartet — Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen, Mary Steenburgen — drew me in, and though the quality of the writing and the balance of the film’s different tones have some ups and downs, I’m glad I decided to see it.
It’s that rarity of feature films these days: It spotlights mature characters who, like you and me, don’t always make the most mature decisions. It’s also mostly sweet and funny, and it carries a strong message of living life to the fullest.
Don’t worry, it’s not one of those “disease of the week” movies. But the four pals do have some personal issues that take some grappling. Diane (Keaton) recently lost her husband and is dealing with her overly worried adult daughters; Sharon (Bergen) is long divorced and maybe, just maybe feeling a little lonely; Carol (Steenburgen) is concerned that the spark has gone out of her marriage; Vivian (Fonda), who has flitted from man to man throughout her life, never settling down, is wondering what might have been.
When Vivian shows up at one of their get-togethers with four copies of “Fifty Shades of Grey,” seven years after it was first published, and known of but never read by any of them, the initial reactions from her pals aren’t very positive, but they agree to go for it. Sharon goes home and reads it, disapprovingly, alongside her cat. Mary reads it while gardening and murmuring, “Oh, wow!” Diane reads it silently, her eyes wide. Vivian happily gets a kick out of it.
What makes the film so enjoyable is that it isn’t about their reactions to it or their discussions about it, but about how it gets each of them to perhaps subconsciously think about themselves and their situations, coincidentally at a time when changes are coming.
Mary opts for some solutions to make her husband (Craig T. Nelson) think more about her than his precious motorcycle. Diane meets a handsome, charming fellow (Andy Garcia) on a plane flight. Vivian bumps into a former flame (Don Johnson) who has never forgotten their time together. Sharon takes a dive into computer dating, and says yes to one guy (Richard Dreyfuss).
The film picks up on a mood of sexual tension, but it’s of both a mature and amusing sort, all of it egged on by a bright and bubbly music soundtrack. It really doesn’t matter that there are a number of duds mixed in with the more numerous really funny bits because these are all characters that are easy to enjoy and hang out with. It’s also very clear that the four real women — not just the folks they’re portraying — are having a good time with each other. On top of that, there’s chemistry to spare between each of them and the men in their lives (even if it takes a while for one of those match-ups to work out).
In the end, it’s a love story, seen from four different vantage points. And unlike the book that brings it all together, it’s real, not kinky.
— Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Written by Bill Holderman and Erin Simms; directed by Bill Holderman
With Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen, Mary Steenburgen