The BOOK CLUB is made up of Diane, Vivian, Sharon and Carol played by veteran stars Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda and Mary Steenburgen respectively, and listed in order of both their popularity and importance of their roles in the film. All four have had their hey day, Fonda with her Oscar Winning KLUTE, breaking into fame with CAT BALLOU (I have seen this film 7 times), Keaton with ANNIE HALL, REDS, Bergen with 11 HARROW HOUSE, THE HUNTING PARTY and SOLDIER BLUE and Steenburgen with CROSS CREEK and DEAD OF WINTER. Watching them on screen is the best thing about the film. Unfortunately, they are unable to save this sorry feminine old farts comedy.
The film’s premise is simple enough with the script stretching it into a tired full length feature. Four older women spend their lives attending a book club where they bond over the typical suggested literature. Each member takes her turn to suggest a book. One day, they end up reading Fifty Shades of Grey (with Christian Grey and his sexual frolics) and are turned on by the content. Viewing it as a wake up call, they decide to expand their lives and chase pleasures that have eluded them.
With four and not one character, the audiences has to sit through all four and not only one story as they sort out their lives.
When the club first meets, it is a long drawn out affair of introductions. One by one, they appear, each apparently trying to outdo each other in wardrobe and appearance. The dialogue is obviously written by a team of comedy writers (though only mildly funny). One liners and punch liners come out of the members’ mouths instead of authentic everyday dialogue.
Later on in the film, the audience sees Keaton wearing all her ANNIE HALL outfits from male jacket, to loose tie to beret. It is clear that the film pays more attention to wardrobe, the mansions with their interior design and stuff that make the elders look good that more urgent matters like script and direction. Choice of popular songs at appropriate parts of the film is ‘cute’ at best.
As the film progresses, it appears that this is a film that shows only one side of the American life – that of the wealthy. All the characters are white and wealthy, with for example, Diane’s boyfriend, Mitchell the pilot (Andy Garcia) owning a mansion with his own private plane or Vivian’s Arthur (Don Johnson) rich enough to miss airline flights at a whim. Even the supposedly middle class couple Carol (Steenburgen) and Bruce (POLTERGEIST’s Craig T. Nelson) has a house to die for. An Asian is shown at one point in the film, but she is only the server of ice-cream sodas.
Of all the 4 stars, the most watchable and most amusing is Bergen playing the judge Sharon, prim and proper but trying to get a date on her dating site. She is best known to the younger generation for her TV role in MURPHY BROWN though this one, in my opinion was the true beauty in her younger days. Her match with Richard Dreyfuss (JAWS, THE APPRENTICESHIP OF DUDDY KRAVITZ, AMERICAN GRAFFITI) is the one that brought the most laughs in the audience in the promo screening I attended. Her other match up with Wallace Shawn falls flat. The audience seems to love (though this has been done before) the segment with Bruce with a uncontrollable hard-on, the result of his wife spiking his beer with a Viagara.
The script underwrites certain characters, which is understandable as there are too many characters in the film. Alicia Silverstone (CLUELESS) is largely wasted as Jill, one of Diane’s daughters who is not given much to do.
BOOK CLUB is merely an excuse to watch 4 stars come together. If watching them is all that matters, the this film might be for you. BOOK CLUB aims low as a glossy, standard senior product with nothing fresh to offer. The film achieves its aim.