Book Club is a film that has a legendary cast, tells a necessary story and is inexplicably, unnecessarily wed to a series that has none of its nuance. The premise is simple, our heroines are four lifelong friends, all of whom happen to be high achievers and trailblazers, (a hotel mogul, a chef-owner and a federal judge among them), who, in addition to their lives, have shared a monthly book club for decades. In a year when their theme is books that have been adapted for the big screen, one of of them elects to read 50 Shades of Grey, and all four of them are inspired to make changes in their lives — specifically in their love lives.
The story of mature woman contemplating their romantic past, present and future is underrepresented and oh-so refreshing. That this all has to be eventuated by a glorified bit of fan fiction that was scandalous a decade ago is a plot device so out-of-touch that it nearly derails everything else, like when Kevin James was the president in Pixels, except every thing about that movie was trash, not just the rising action and the convenient character details. This cast and this story deserve so much better than what feels like a note designed to grab clickbait: “Yes. There is a Movie About 70-somethings Getting Down With Christian Grey Now.” C’mon, Paramount. When you have four iconic actresses, you don’t need a stale controversy to get people in the door. You already have Academy Award Winner Jane Fonda, Academy Award Winner Diane Keaton, Academy Award Winner Mary Steenbergen and Academy Award Nominee Candice Bergen. Oh yeah, and Coach and Andy Garcia and Alicia Silverstone. Listen, this picture has originality and pedigree, let’s think a little more of the audience and assume we can get on board without building everything on a title that threatens to eclipse what’s actually wonderful here.
Speaking of, let’s get into that. It goes without saying that our lead actresses are good at their jobs, but let me just say anyway that the greatest strength of Book Club is watching the four of them do their thing. Fonda is as self-assured and magnetic as ever, while Bergen flexes those well impeccable comedic chops of hers and Steenbergen and Keaton do the brilliantly subtle, chameleonic things they do. It feels as if these characters were created for them to such an extent that they even made their own decisions about styling — Fonda and Keaton in particular look for all the world like they showed up with their personal wardrobes. And it works. Brilliantly. Because this story deserves real women, not characters, and the very best of it lies in the fact that they all have wildly different, but wildly tangible issues. Sure, things are exaggerated for comedy, but there’s no outlandish slapstick here, there’s honest humor, and that’s what left the Mother’s Day audience of moms and grandmoms I screened it with in stitches.
So, as much as I would relish the opportunity to make a pass at the script an eliminate that one massive misstep, I am ecstatic this picture exists. It won’t be my favorite film of the year, but I think it will be for a great many women who don’t get to see themselves as the stars of the story nearly enough.