“Book Club” is a perfect example of a major studio recognizing that not everybody is in the market for a superhero movie and that the ever-increasing number of aging Baby Boomers is also the group with the highest amounts of disposable income. If you ignore them, you’re making a huge business mistake.
Slapping together a movie that serves as both the pilot and final episode of something resembling a knockoff of “The Golden Girls” and populating it with four Oscar-winners along with two other nominees was a no-brainer. There are enough fans of these six people alone to warrant a movie about anything and doing so with barely a lick of anything interesting taking place probably won’t matter.
A lot of people will pay good money to see “Book Club” and many — not most — will leave the theater feeling they got a good deal. They’ll see performers they grew up with playing people about the same age as them while talking “PG-13” level dirty (with a single allowed “F-bomb”) about sex and some other assorted inconveniences associated with aging. It’s a movie reflecting the lifestyle of a huge demographic most movies don’t even acknowledge and if so, often treat as caricatures or drooling fools.
If you’re not a Baby Boomer — or one that prefers things like quality, originality, humor and non-predictability — “Book Club” will likely be a supreme misappropriation of your time and money. It totally wastes the talents of several otherwise respected actors and hundreds of production personnel for a venture that accomplishes practically next to nothing.
The opening title sequence — while highly informative regarding back story — is embarrassing to watch. Archival images of the four female leads (Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Mary Steenburgen and Candice Bergen) are superimposed into generic stock still photos and screams 1995-era Photoshop. None of it looks remotely real or believable but does serve as a proper lead into a similarly forced narrative.
BFFs since the Woodstock era, Diane (Keaton), Vivian (Fonda), Sharon (Bergen) and Carol (Steenburgen) started their book club with the (then) racy “Fear of Flying” by Erica Jong and their latest share is “50 Shades of Grey” by E.L. James. It is Vivian’s turn to pick the title, and she does so because she doesn’t want the group (Diane and Sharon in particular) to “stop living before they stop living” (yes, that’s an actual line of dialogue repeated more than once).
Each woman has their own particular issue/hang-up. Vivian is the commitment-phobic sex kitten; Diane is a recent widow with an “Annie Hall” wardrobe whose grown daughters think she will die by accident. Divorcee (and judge) Sharon is still not over her 18-year-long divorce, and Carol can’t for the life of her get her husband (Craig T. Nelson) to make love to her. Of all the characters in the film, Carol is the one with the highest level of relatable believability.
First-time director Bill Holderman and his co-writer Erin Simms deserve minimal credit for pairing up all of the ladies in quick order. There’s the frustrated Carol, Vivian and her still-stung past paramour Arthur (Don Johnson, also the father of Dakota Johnson, the female lead in the “50 Shades of Grey” franchise), Diane’s very persistent airline pilot Mitchell (Andy Garcia, who also appeared in “The Godfather Part III” with Keaton) and the internet, Sharon’s vessel into finding Mr. Right or Mr. Right Now — eventually played in human form by Richard Dreyfuss and Wallace Shawn.
Besides an extended scene involving Viagra, nothing else in “Book Club” plays out with anything resembling sincerity or authenticity. While the unique situations involving each woman show signs of promise, the filmmakers torpedo all efforts by going broad or relying on soft-shoe clichés. All of the male characters (including Garcia’s) are portrayed as symbolically neutered and the very happy, very convenient, final four collection of concluding scenes takes zero chances and ends with an emotional uptick.
Movies such as “Book Club” — in addition to taking absolutely no chances — are virtually required to provide every character with a happy, if not uncomplicated ending. Again, this is exactly what the target audience wants, and that is exactly what they’ll get.
“Book Club” isn’t a “major” motion picture and to its credit, it doesn’t want to be anything close to major. It’s a niche movie in search of a (very receptive) easy-to-please audience and on that level alone, it succeeds. It also proves that the word “success” has many meanings and interpretations. It’s worth mentioning that the studio chose the perfect, sunny afternoon of Mother’s Day Sunday to screen the film for the media and few members of the press actually showed up to watch it. Make of that what you will.