“Jane Fonda stars in BOOK CLUB alongside Diane Keaton, Mary Steenburgen and Candice Bergen. Diane (Diane Keaton) is recently widowed after 40 years of marriage. Vivian (Jane Fonda) enjoys her men with no strings attached. Sharon (Candice Bergen) is still working through a decades-old divorce. Carol’s (Mary Steenburgen) marriage is in a slump after 35 years. The four lifelong friends’ lives are turned upside down to hilarious ends when their book club tackles the infamous Fifty Shades of Grey. From discovering new romance to rekindling old flames, they inspire each other to make their next chapter the best chapter.”
So you have (star of The Godfather, and) Annie Hall’s Oscar winning Diane Keaton, multiple-Oscar winner Jane Fonda, Oscar winner Mary Steenburger and 5 time Emmy Award winner Candice Bergen as four best mates who started a book club in 1974.
44 years on they still meet monthly to swap stories and share a new book. Their latest tome? Fifty Shades of Grey.
While not the best material these accomplished performers have had to work with, they give it their all, turning a relatively light affair into something more meaningful and very enjoyable to watch.
Fonda plays man-eater Vivian, the owner of a luxury Beverly Hills Hotel who claims “I don’t need anyone, it’s the secret to my success.” Professing to be happily single, her first great love Arthur (Don Johnson) pops back onto the radar and tries hard to win her back after he unsuccessfully proposed marriage over milkshakes forty years earlier.
Bergen plays Vivian’s college room-mate Sharon, a federal judge, and 18 years on from her divorce to Tom (Ed Begley Jr.) she is still hung up on the breakdown of their marriage and has not slept with a man since the split. Tom is hooking up with a pretty young blonde many years his junior, and while Sharon is unsure about her ex-husband’s new relationship, it provides encouragement for her to get back in the dating game. She is also uncertain about her son getting engaged – “Why? I mean Wow. If I sound judgmental that’s a professional hazard”.
Steenburgen, one of my favourite faces from TV and recent films such as A Walk in the Woods and Last Vegas plays Carol, who can’t excite her husband of 35 years Bruce (Mr Incredible – Craig T. Nelson) even when she dons the sexy waitress outfit she was wearing when they first hooked up. Bruce has recently retired from work and is having a bit of a life crisis, digging out his old motorbike from the garage to restore.
Diane Keaton’s Diane may well be the most complicated character in Book Club, as she has recently lost her husband and her adult children are pressuring her to move in with them to a converted basement in Arizona. They obsess about her falling over or encountering similar mishaps, and when she hooks up with charming pilot Mitchell (Andy Garcia) and goes AWOL for a period they freak out thinking the worst. The casting of Garcia is smart as it provides a link to his role in Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again as Fernando, paramour to Cher’s grandmother character Ruby Sheridan, and we accept him wooing an older lady.
It’s a recurrent theme in Book Club, that these mature women are still attractive to men their junior. Garcia is 62, Keaton 72, Fonda 80 and Don Johnson 68, Bergen is 72 and one of her dates Richard Dreyfuss is 70. (Steenburger is 65 and Nelson is 74.)
Book Club is one of the most thoroughly watchable lightweight films I’ve seen in a while. These four actresses alone make the price of admission a solid return on investment and with the supporting male cast and the entertaining premise of Fifty Shades of Grey influencing their lives in various ways, it’s an enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours.
The scenes with all four women are the best, but their individual storylines also deliver an opportunity for them to shine in their own rights.
An added plus is the intense colour saturation throughout the film. Whether it is a benefit of shooting in the sunshine of California and Arizona, or a not so subtle hint that their lives are still vivid, Book Club is simply gorgeous to watch.
3 & 1/2 Stars – “Extremely Watchable”.