A book club without a spine.


Let’s be clear before we start;  I am NOT in the demographic that this film is aimed at.  And judging from the general reactions of the cinema audience I shared this with – 90%+ of who were women aged over 50 – my views are NOT going to necessarily reflect the general view, since there seemed to be quite a few satisfied customers in the audience.  But my personal view would be, if you’re going to make a light-hearted comedy aimed at the lucrative silver pound, then at least make it a good one. For this – for me – felt like 50 shades of lame. 

How the upper class live: from left, Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen, Jane Fonda and Mary Steenburgen (Source: Paramount Pictures).

The action – if we can stretch the use of English that far – revolves around the four middle-class white ladies (this film challenges neither class nor racial divides) who meet periodically with copious quantities of wine and goat-cheese stuffed tomatoes to discuss a book. Hotel owner Vivian (Jane Fonda, “Klute”, “On Golden Pond”) is making lots of love but is reluctant to commit to it herself; Diane (Diane Keaton, “”Annie Hall”, “Something’s Gotta Give”) is recently widowed and struggling against being pigeon-holed as an ‘old duffer’ by her two daughters; Sharon (Candice Bergen, “Soldier Blue”, “Miss Congeniality”) has devoted her life to her career as a high court judge at the expense of a physical relationship (“What happens to a vagina that hasn’t been used in 18 years?!”); and Carol (Mary Steenburgen (“Back to the Future Part III”) is in a sexless marriage with her recently retired husband Bruce (Craig T Nelson, “Get Hard“, “Poltergeist”).

Vivian introduces the book club to “50 Shades of Grey” and the book influences everyone’s lives in different ways.

Highlighting things to try later? Jane Fonda, unbelievably now 81 and still looking great! (Source: Paramount Pictures)

What ensues is 100 minutes of double entendres (“You have a lethargic pussy” says a veterinarian… you get the level) as the four separate stories (bump and) grind towards their separate conclusions.  There are one or too laugh-out-loud moments but the majority of the screenplay is merely smile-worthy: “Mostly harmless” as Douglas Adams would have said.

What IS good, which is the reason my rating won’t have a “1” in it, is that it does give a reason to see some of our more senior actors and actresses strut their stuff again on the main stage.

Mary Steenburgen – the baby of the cast at merely 65. (Source: Paramount Pictures)

In terms of the lead performances, while Steenburgen is good, it is Candice Bergen who impresses most as a fine comic actress. More please!  Fonda and Don Johnson (“Miami Vice”) were supposed to be a hot couple, but their acting to me appeared false and their chemistry non-existent:  did they have a fight outside the trailer every morning?  And Diane Keaton was… well… Diane Keaton: the ditzy old hippy shtick wore a bit thin for me by the end.

Don Johnson and Jane Fonda: on the roof, but never raising the roof. (Source: Paramount Pictures)

We also have appearances from the great Andy Garcia (“The Godfather Part III”, “Oceans 11”), Wallace Shawn (just SOOooo good as the sleazy mob lawyer in “The Good Wife/Fight”) and (best of all) Richard Dreyfuss (“Jaws”, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”). Dreyfuss has merely a cameo, but I was just longing for more of his character.

An acting delight : Richard Dreyfuss and Candice Bergen show how it should be done. (Source: Paramount Pictures)

Alicia Silverstone (“Clueless”, “Batman & Robin”) even turns up, but her character (together with her sister played by Katie Aselton) is so annoying and vacuous that it’s not easy to warm to her.

A standout – but not in a good way – is the special effects, with some of the dodgiest green screen work I’ve seen in many a year.  Think “North by Northwest” quality….. but that’s nearly  60 years old!

So, it’s not a film I would run to see again, but I’m not going to pan it completely, since if you are of the demographic that enjoys such films, you may really enjoy this one.  It reminds me somewhat of “It’s Complicated” – and that’s one of my wife’s personal favourites! It also addresses some key topics that will be of relevance to a senior audience, not normally addressed by movies:  male impotence resulting from self-doubt; the need to keep a young and ever-inquiring mind; and the good times to be had by getting out and back in the game again after bereavement (yes, you know who you are and you know I’m addressing YOU here!). 

Fad Rating: FF.