If you’ve ever been part of a book club and/or read the kinky romance trilogy “Fifty Shades of Grey,” then you’ll totally ‘get’ this movie and enjoy a few good laughs along the way. It’s formulaic and predictable and largely stakes-free, but as the friend who accompanied me to a special Mother’s Day screening of the film declared, “We need that type of movie once in a while!” In other words, don’t over-think it. Just appreciate Book Club for its lighthearted nature and positive themes about embracing change, taking risks, and starting new chapters in the book of life. And, enjoy it for the cast: a powerhouse ensemble of veteran actors led by Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen and Mary Steenbergen.
The women play lifelong friends who decide to forego their typically safe, intellectually-stimulating book club picks in favor of some Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele literary action. The selection serves as a metaphor for the women’s needs and desires to shake things up – and not just in the bedroom (there’s plenty of that too, but in a very tame PG-13 kind of way). It’s “Sex in the City” for women of a certain age… featuring strong, successful independent women of a certain age who aren’t ready to morph into the “Golden Girls” just yet.
While the group is most fun when they’re together, trading zingers, dishing on the book and drinking chardonnay, the individual characters each have their arc: Diane (Keaton) is a recent widow whose adult daughters want her to move from California to Arizona so they can keep an eye on her, even though she’s still got a lot of living to do, and possibly some loving too – with an adorable pilot (Andy Garcia); Vivian (Fonda) is a wealthy hotelier who has always enjoyed her dalliances with no-strings attached but finds herself drawn to an ex-flame (Don Johnson, whose daughter Dakota stars in the Fifty Shades films. Coincidence? Irony?); Sharon (Bergen) is a bitterly sarcastic judge who is still working through her decades-old divorce and decides to throw herself into the online dating game after her ex-husband (Ed Begley Jr.) announces his engagement to a much younger woman; and Carol (Steenburgen) is a long-married chef who adores her recently-retired husband (Craig T. Nelson) but is growing frustrated with a major decline in their sex life and hatches a misguided plan to jump-start the romance.
Like the “Fifty Shades” books (and movies), Book Club takes a bit too long to wrap up. But overall, it’s a solid cinematic romp with a stellar cast that is aging quite well – with or without varying degrees of surgical assistance.