HOT AND BOTH­ERED

Steamy novel gets Book Club bud­dies fired up in new romp

Windsor Star - - MOVIES - TINA HAS­SAN­NIA

The in­fa­mously un-sexy book se­ries Fifty Shades of Grey is a con­ve­nient pop-cul­ture ref­er­ence point so Book Club’s four women char­ac­ters — adorable, re­cently wid­owed Diane (Diane Keaton), sex-ob­sessed en­tre­pre­neur Vi­vian (Jane Fonda), di­vorced, mar­ried-to-her-job Sharon (Candice Ber­gen) and sex­u­ally frus­trated house­wife Carol (Mary Steen­bur­gen) — can bond and talk about their sex lives.

Sharon’s 18-year ab­sti­nence is an easy punch­line for her friends

(one de­scribes Sharon’s vag­ina as “The Cave of For­got­ten Dreams,” one of the bet­ter jokes in the film).

Ber­gen brings an earnest, comedic charisma to an oth­er­wise un­der­writ­ten role as she fum­bles around on­line dat­ing ser­vice Bum­ble — this in­cludes a hi­lar­i­ous scene in which she ac­ci­den­tally posts a pro­file pic of her mor­ti­fied, skin-mask-clad face. The most ob­vi­ous Sex and the City stand-in char­ac­ter is Vi­vian, clearly based on Kim Cat­trall’s Sa­man­tha.

Fonda’s leop­ard-print-wear­ing icy temptress is re­fresh­ing to see on­screen — if only be­cause the num­ber of pos­i­tive de­pic­tions of post-menopausal fe­male sex­u­al­ity can be counted on one hand. How­ever, the ba­sis of her char­ac­ter is as stereo­typed as Sa­man­tha’s: a woman turns down love (she said no to a wed­ding pro­posal 40 years ago, only to re­cently start ca­su­ally dat­ing the same guy, Arthur, played by Don John­son) to fo­cus on ca­reer am­bi­tions.

Diane is pos­si­bly the most fleshed-out char­ac­ter of the club. She meets a hand­some, self-as­sured and wealthy pi­lot, Mitchell (Andy Gar­cia), who is very good to her. Keaton’s ner­vous en­ergy is well-buoyed by Gar­cia’s serene charm and their scenes are the most won­der­ful to dream-watch. But a lame sub­plot in­volv­ing her over­pro­tec­tive daugh­ters de­volves into some­thing silly. Steen­bur­gen’s Carol gets the least char­ac­ter­i­za­tion. Her dwin­dling dy­namic with re­tired hus­band Bruce (Craig T. Nelson) is struc­tured around a real re­la­tion­ship is­sue (his dwin­dling sex drive), that is, like ev­ery other con­flict in the film, quickly and neatly re­solved.

Book Club would have been bet­ter as a minis­eries, where emo­tional in­tel­li­gence and more witty ban­ter could en­gage in the kind of nar­ra­tive fore­play that makes for a gen­uinely sat­is­fy­ing, in­ter­est­ing and nu­anced dram­edy. There is an appetite for sto­ries like Book Club and there’s no rea­son why we can’t have more come­dies star­ring hot, con­fi­dent, older women ex­plor­ing the “next chap­ter” of their lives.

PARA­MOUNT PICTURES

Candice Ber­gen, left, Mary Steen­bur­gen and Jane Fonda star in Book Club, which ex­plores the lives of women of a cer­tain age.

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