Book Club is a strained affair, despite stellar cast
Fonda, Bergen, Keaton and Steenburgen can’t save weirdly off-key movie
There is a built-in pleasure in seeing Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen, Jane Fonda and Mary Steenburgen in the same movie. We’re used to them. We like them. We like being around them — but not so much that we can’t notice that “Book Club’’ is a pretty strained affair, not especially funny and weirdly off key.
It’s the story of four best friends from school days, who’ve been part of a monthly book club since back when “Fear of Flying’’ was a bestseller. One day, one of the ladies springs “Fifty Shades of Grey’’ on her friends. That gets the ball rolling: the women start thinking about sexual adventures that they missed out on and begin trying to make up for lost time.
Though the ages of the women are never stated, the movie strongly implies that the women are roughly the same age, and they’re probably in their mid-60s.
But only Mary Steenburgen, who is 65, is in that zone.
Bergen and Keaton are 72, and Fonda is 80. Although love and romance are possible at any age, there are differences between being in one’s 60s, 70s and 80s. The movie glosses over these differences.
On the other hand, this may just be a movie designed for a particular demographic that has been mostly ignored — women over 70.
Don Johnson shows up, charming and just crazy about Fonda. Andy Garcia takes one look at Diane Keaton and seems to fall in love immediately.
And by the way, these men are not only good-looking and considerably younger, but they’re rich! Movies that cater to male fantasies are made every week. We don’t even notice them — they’re just called movies. So “Book Club’’ may serve a purpose.
The screenplay places the women in different places in life. Keaton plays a recent widow — though the power of that is undercut by her mentioning, in passing, that she wasn’t all that crazy about the dead husband, anyway. Bergen is a federal judge, whose sex life is so nonexistent that, at one point, her friends use the title of a Werner Herzog movie to refer to her private parts. You have two seconds to guess which Herzog movie ... Give up? “Cave of Forgotten Dreams.’’
Meanwhile, Fonda is a fabulously wealthy hotel owner with a succession of lovers but no true love. Steenburgen plays a longtime married woman becoming concerned about her husband (Craig T. Nelson). Newly retired, his desire to have sex seems to have evaporated the day he stopped working. Now he just mopes around the garage, tinkering with an old car.
The movie’s different threads vary in quality and interest. The Keaton and Fonda story lines suffer from fake, concocted arguments with their respective lovers — the bane of all bad romantic comedies, and this time we get it double. But the marriage story, with Steenburgen and Nelson, is a sensitive look at a couple getting older and it contains the movie’s funniest bit (involving Viagra slipped into a beer). And Bergen, who plays the most withdrawn of the ladies, does something interesting with the judge, suggesting a healing and an awakening.
“Book Club’’ isn’t a serious movie and wasn’t meant to be — it’s just a diversion, but it’s only mildly diverting. For a more serious take on the same subject, see “I’ll See You in Dreams,’’ with Blythe Danner, from a few years ago. It goes deeper, and it’s better.
Jane Fonda, left, Mary Steenburgen, centre, and Candice Bergen star in “Book Club.”