Book Club

A week before the press screening for Book Club, my wife and I kept seeing commercials for it. She’d say, “You know that’s going to be horrible, right?”

I’d nod my head in agreement, thinking about movies like It’s Complicated (Alec Baldwin, Meryl Streep, Steve Martin). And you can’t tell me about who the demographic is for a movie. I contend a good movie is a good movie, and it shouldn’t matter. In 1991, I was a 23-year-old guy with long hair, working as a DJ at a rock station. Two movies came out that I loved — Fried Green Tomatoes and The Prince of Tides (the later being one of my all-time favorites). I was hardly the demographic for those films.

Book Club isn’t nearly as good as those two movies, but it surprised both my wife and I, who were giddy watching these actresses we love in scenarios that were cute. Sure, the situations could be cheesy or better suited for a sitcom. But when you’re dealing with this kind of talent, it can make an average script better. That’s what happened here (no disrespect to screenwriter/actress Erin Simms).

In the first half of the movie, only one thing bothered me. Yet it’s a pretty big thing. The women in this book club decide to read Fifty Shades of Grey, and it’s like female viagra for them. This group is a rather intelligent bunch, and as anybody with an IQ over 100 will tell you — that book is crap. So the fact that product-placement for such horrible literature (and I use that word loosely) is used to get the premise going, is a bit bothersome. Especially since they could’ve come up with a fictional book, with Fabio on the cover, and one of the women claiming “It’s this years ‘Fifty Shades’.”

Perhaps I’m harping on that complaint a bit too much. It’s just that I prefer old people getting frisky after a swim in a pool in Florida, because aliens put pods in the water that turned it into a fountain of youth (Cocoon).

The other thing that’s annoying is half of the storyline involving Diane Keaton’s character. We adore the new love in her life, played by Andy Garcia, as a pilot wooing her. The story involving her kids (one of them played by Alicia Silverstone, in a thankless role) wanting her to move her to Arizona because she’s too old to live on her own — makes no sense. We see her fixing the windows, tending the garden, and come on. It’s not like this is Betty White walking around her house. She looks like she’s 40! And it also makes no sense as to why she never tells them to bug off. Perhaps if they had her fall and break her hip, or her house was broken into, it would explain the worry from her adult kids. Clint Eastwood told his kids to get lost when they wanted to put him in a home in Gran Torino, before going and shooting up all the gang members in the neighborhood (Uh…perhaps that’s a bad movie comparison).

Everything else with the characters worked splendidly. Candice Bergen plays a judge that hasn’t dated since her marriage ended 18 years ago. She’s a bit peeved her ex (Ed Begley, Jr. with a fantastic hair dye job) is marrying a much younger woman (Mircea Monroe). She gets coerced into trying online dating. It was a treat to see she gets dates with men played by the likes of Richard Dreyfuss and Wallace Shawn. My wife did bring up a good point. She asked why they didn’t have one scene where somebody sent her a “di*k pic.” It definitely seemed that, an older person trying the online dating world, could’ve used a few jokes they never bothered to write. Whether that’s an X-rated picture or somebody using a profile pic from when they were 20 years younger (or 20 pounds lighter). It doesn’t matter that they didn’t explore online dating the way they could’ve because 90% of the acerbic lines Bergen spits out in this get a laugh; so why go with the cliche jokes people expect (that isn’t to say this film doesn’t have its cliche moments).

Jane Fonda looks gorgeous for her age, and they have her wearing stunning outfits. She’s the Samantha of the group. She’s rich and successful (owning two high-end hotels), and never sleeps with the guys she sleeps with. Her world is rocked when an old flame who once proposed, shows up in town (played by Don Johnson).

A pleasant surprise was having one of the characters in a marriage, and a relatively happy one. Mary Steenburgen (who was in another movie with old folks looking for love that was cute — Last Vegas).

Yet after reading this new book, it’s making her want to get a little more randy with her recently retired husband (Craig T. Nelson). He seems more interested in polishing up the old motorcycle [of course there will be some puns involving bikes].

First time director Bill Holderman (who co-wrote the script) does a serviceable job, and made a movie that will make the target audience very happy. It totally had a Nancy Meyers vibe.

The men that are dragged to it, won’t be disappointed they spent time with these characters.

An example of how a movie doesn’t have to have brilliant writing, but can be a pleasant experience, is the scene with Keaton on her date with Garcia. She tells a story about her first kiss, and Garcia looks at her with gentle smile. It’s such a precious moment, and he has a funny line following her open moment with him. There’s also that awkward moment at the end of the date, wondering if there will be a kiss.

It’s funny, because so often in this movie, the women are discussing their woes in life, with a big glass of chardonnay. I can imagine women watching this, with so many movie theatres now serving alcohol, doing the same. It’s the perfect art imitating life moment [side note: don’t use a Red Vine for a straw; I did that, and it made the wine taste funky].

I’m sure some critics will complain that we don’t have any backstory on the men in this. Oh, who cares?! It’s not about them, and how many decades and decades of films have we had where there’s a female character that’s given nothing to do but stand around and look pretty? So, this will be Andy Garcia’s job in this. He can have that slight silver in his hair, smirky smile, and can be a pilot that invented a device that brought him millions of dollars. I was fine with that, and also the way the other stories wrapped up (although the 3rd act really could’ve used a rewrite).

The soundtrack had songs we all love: Late in the Evening by Paul Simon, Running Down a Dream by Tom Petty, and the now overused You Sexy Thing. It does get credit for the clever way they used a Meatloaf tune near the end of the movie.

Fun Fact: In a scene where Steenburgen slips her husband viagra, they’re soon pulled over by a female cop. He obviously can’t get out of the car, as ordered. Well, Steenburgen also had a hysterical scene in Parenthood where she gets dirty in the car while Steve Martin is driving. That also involved police officers pulling them over.

Fun Fact 2: Don Johnson’s daughter Dakota plays Anastasia Steele in the Fifty Shades of Grey films.

3 stars out of 5.