For that part of the moviegoing audience that might be over age 25 — or even, say, 50 — it just doesn’t get much better than having a quartet like Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton, Mary Steenburgen and Candice Bergen together in one smart, funny, warm and wonderful movie. Book Club, as I say in my video review (click the link above to watch), is a must-see for audiences looking for a feel-good movie that lifts you up and sends you out of the theater with a big smile. That’s what this one does, and you can’t beat the sensational premise.
Four friends since college, now in their senior years having lived a lot of life collectively, get together each month in their book club. This time the book is chosen by Vivian (Fonda), and she gets saucy with Fifty Shades of Grey. But it will have life-changing consequences for their own romantic relationships (or lack thereof) once they get through the first chapter and discover what it really is all about. No, this does not evolve into a comedy about a bunch of grannies employing whips, leather and chains but rather a hopeful and sweet film in its own way that is fifty shades of great and aims to prove that life, like the fine Chardonnay this group drinks constantly, can just get better with age.
None of these women is ready to hang it up, but each is dealing with their own hangups in one way or another. Vivian is the vivacious one, possibly dealing with getting back with an old flame (played by Don Johnson). Keaton as Diane is reluctant to ever get back into a romantic situation and start over, especially with grown kids who discourage anything like this — but the suave and determined Mitchell (a terrific Andy Garcia) wants to change all that. Carol (Steenburgen) is happily married for many years to Bruce (a hilarious Craig T. Nelson), but the fire has long since burned out of their love life, so reading the book inspires her to light it up again. And Sharon (Bergen) is a workaholic single judge who joins a dating service to see if she can find whatever mojo she has left, and she does that with a couple of desperate suitors played by Richard Dreyfuss (in for one scene) and Wallace Shawn.
The hook of the book is really just a device to get into a mature, often LOL movie that older audiences should love, but best of all it has a once-in-a-blue-moon cast — who all prove they still have it. Bill Holderman, who has been a producer working with, among others, Robert Redford’s company, makes his directorial debut from a screenplay he penned with Erin Simms that, beyond its pitchable premise, is smartly written and developed as a very human comedy about people who don’t often get to be the subject of mainstream movies, particularly in a summer season of superheroes and action films.
Holderman knows his way around this age group, having written the 2015 hit indie comedy A Walk in the Woods for Redford and Nick Nolte. He’s done an admirable job here steering four national treasures and making it all seem seamless. All of them get their own moment to shine — particularly Bergen who, as usual, has perfect comic timing. Steenburgen also is a delight in a dance number she does on her own for a talent show after her hubby begs off. The film sometimes gets a little broad, as in an incident where Carol slips some Viagra to an unknowing Bruce, but it never stops being real. Producers are Holderman, Simms, Alex Saks, and Andrew Duncan. Paramount Pictures releases it Friday.
Do you plan to see Book Club? Let us know what you think.
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