Book Club

National Post (National Edition) - - POST MOVIES - Tina Has­san­nia

Book Club

For a movie ti­tled Book Club, there aren’t many scenes ded­i­cated to char­ac­ters hold­ing book club ses­sions, but the ti­tle is hardly the point in this Sex and the City-es­que rom-com for the older-mom de­mo­graphic.

The in­fa­mously un-sexy main­stream erot­ica book se­ries Fifty Shades of Grey is a con­ve­nient pop-cul­ture ref­er­ence point so that the film’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.

In the case of Sharon, her 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. Her job as a judge has left lit­tle time for ro­mance, though watch­ing her son get en­gaged and her ex-hus­band Tom (Ed Be­g­ley Jr.) canoo­dle with a much-younger fi­ancée has made Sharon more in­ter­ested in find­ing a new mate.

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. This may have been ac­cu­rate for women of pre­vi­ous eras, cer­tainly, but per­haps it’s a de­pic­tion that could use more nu­ance. That Arthur even­tu­ally makes her emo­tion­ally vul­ner­a­ble by do­ing her favourite thing in the world — arm tick­ling, be­cause she’s “a woman of sim­ple plea­sures” — demon­strates the lack of char­ac­ter de­vel­op­ment in Book Club.

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 Diane’s dy­namic with her two over­pro­tec­tive daugh­ters (Ali­cia Sil­ver­stone and Katie Asel­ton), who want to move their ag­ing mama to their base­ment like the help­less se­nior they seem to think she is, damp­ens her sub­plot into some­thing silly, es­pe­cially when the two worlds col­lide.

Steen­bur­gen’s Carol gets the least char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of the bunch. Her dwin­dling dy­namic with re­cently re­tired hus­band Bruce (Craig T. Nelson) is struc­tured around a real re­la­tion­ship is­sue that is, like ev­ery other con­flict in the film, quickly and neatly re­solved. His lack of sexual de­sire and sud­den in­ter­est in his dusty mo­tor­cy­cle has him ca­su­ally fir­ing off one un­wit­ting sexual in­nu­endo af­ter an­other (“slap some wax on that saddle”) and en­dur­ing sev­eral Vi­a­gra mishaps in the hands of Carol.

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 the kinds of sto­ries Book Club wants to tell — which is why Net­flix’s Grace and Frankie, which costars Fonda, is do­ing so well — and there’s no rea­son why we can’t have more come­dies star­ring hot, con­fi­dent, self-ac­tu­al­ized 65-plus-yearold women ex­plor­ing the “next chap­ter” of their lives, like the film’s tag line boasts.


From left, Jane Fonda, Candice Ber­gen and Mary Steen­bur­gen in a scene from the dram­edy Book Club.

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