The Peterborough Examiner

‘Book Club: The Next Chapter’ a light, bubbly trip to Italy

- KATIE WALSH RICCARDO GHILARDI FIFTH SEASON LLC TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICE

It seems like everyone’s going to Italy these days. Thanks to a strong dollar and pandemic-induced wanderlust, it’s not just influencer­s, old friends and exes filling up their Instagram feeds with gelato and pasta. “Succession” Season 3 took to a trip to Tuscany for a wedding, “The White Lotus” Season 2 checked in for a stay in Sicily, while Toni Collette landed in Rome to become the “Mafia Mamma.” And now the “Book Club” gals — Jane Fonda, Mary Steenburge­n, Diane Keaton and Candice Bergen — take off for a wine-soaked adventure off the page in the fluffy and fantastica­l “Book Club: The Next Chapter.”

Directed by Bill Holderman, written by Holderman and Erin Simms, this sequel is even more of a heightened fantasy than the 2018 film. It will require tossing aside every scrap of disbelief and grabbing onto a glass of Prosecco instead, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t also be a touching story about the importance of lifelong friendship­s. When Vivian (Fonda) grasps her girls in a group hug and declares them her “soulmates,” it’s hard not to be at least a little bit moved by their friendship, which is a lively balance of pleasure-seeking, hapless adventure and a healthy dose of just enough tough love.

In the first film, the gals got their groove back thanks to “Fifty Shades of Grey,” and in “The Next Chapter,” it’s about forging a new path forward with Paolo Coelho’s “The Alchemist,” the quartet looking for signs, which lead them to Italy under the auspices of a bacheloret­te party for Vivian, who is now engaged to Arthur (Don Johnson).

“The Next Chapter” has a bit of a stumble at the outset. The 2020-set preamble retreads some tired pandemic material about Zoom happy hours as the book club goes virtual, and the machinatio­ns to get them to Italy are so tortured that as an audience, we often feel ahead of the characters. It’s not until they arrive in Venice from Rome, rattled by the theft of their suitcases, that we fall into step with them, as they shake loose their uptight Brentwood sensibilit­ies for the Italian way of life, following the signs like Coelho’s protagonis­t. A spontaneou­s drink with a handsome stranger, Ousmane (Hugh Quarshie), leads to a serendipit­ous dinner party and a visitor from the past. The film was shot on location in Italy offering a bit of a travelogue appeal, though it retains the esthetic of a carefully lit studio backlot. The characters are also essentiall­y riffs on these legendary actresses’ personas — it’s not exactly transforma­tive acting here.

Once again, Bergen proves to be the MVP as salty, sarcastic retired judge Sharon. She’s the very necessary hit of acid needed to make this confection palatable, the spritz of lemon on a plate of fritto misto, cutting through the fat. Going with the Italian wine theme, as these ladies like to drink a lot of it, Sharon is a dry, full-bodied Montepulci­ano (she may be sardonic but she is still sexy). Fonda’s Vivian a crisp, bubbly Prosecco, chef Carol (Steenburge­n) a velvety Chianti, perfect for pairing with food, while Diane (Keaton) is a cool, sweet Pinot Grigio. To continue the food metaphors, the story itself is easily digestible that it calls to mind polenta: warm, comforting, not too challengin­g, a little cheesy.

This is a film that wants to have it all, to celebrate the women who take the nontraditi­onal path but still end in a white wedding; to offer a portrait of feminine sexuality of a certain age, but remain couched in heterosexu­al monogamy. There are some inherent contradict­ions in what it wants to hold as true at the same time, but it’s also honest in that it offers a space for those truths to coexist. Holderman and Simms’ script navigates those moments capably enough.

Ultimately, “Book Club: The Next Chapter” is about finding balance: between reading the signs and controllin­g your own narrative, between taking a leap of faith and putting in the hard work, and most importantl­y, putting your own desires first and having the bravery to take the reins, whether that means marriage or a rendezvous in a canal with a handsome professor of philosophy. Either or both can be the right choice. It may be treacly and unrealisti­c, but “Book Club: The Next Chapter” has heart and soul, and it’s as sweet and quaffable as an Aperol spritz on a hot day.

 ?? FIFTH SEASON LLC ?? Mary Steenburge­n as Carol, left, Jane Fonda as Vivian, Diane Keaton as Diane and Candice Bergen as Sharon star in “Book Club: The Next Chapter.”
FIFTH SEASON LLC Mary Steenburge­n as Carol, left, Jane Fonda as Vivian, Diane Keaton as Diane and Candice Bergen as Sharon star in “Book Club: The Next Chapter.”
 ?? ?? Craig T. Nelson also reprises his role as as Bruce in “Book Club: The Next Chapter.”
Craig T. Nelson also reprises his role as as Bruce in “Book Club: The Next Chapter.”

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