“Book Club,” Is Made Better By Female Leads

Photo by Melinda Sue Gordon - © 2018 - Paramount Pictures
Photo by Melinda Sue Gordon – © 2018 – Paramount Pictures

Hollywood generally isn’t kind to women of a certain age. For instance, Diane Lane is already playing grandmothers. When a film comes along that gives a female legend something interesting and worthwhile to do, it’s an event. But what happens when a film gives four older actresses a chance to shine again?

Book Club might be unwatchable without these four women. It isn’t particularly smart or groundbreaking material. It’s clunky and doesn’t have the same talent behind the camera as in front of it. But the four leads have great chemistry. They’re so funny and charming together, it almost gives you the impression you’re watching a better movie because of it.

Four lifelong friends played by Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen and Mary Steenburgen, all have successful and fulfilling careers but still meet once a month for the book club they’ve been enjoying for forty years. One decides that they should read Fifty Shades of Grey and it leads them to re-examine their own romantic lives and realize that there’s still a lot of life left to live.

The trailer for this film doesn’t look like a real movie. It looks like a Funny or Die sketch. Fifty Shades, its author, and the respective film adaptations have a deserved negative reputation that lends itself to parody almost immediately. However, Book Club isn’t really about that. It’s about how this friendship has endured all these years, and how these women still want to shake things up for themselves even as the world tells them they’re becoming irrelevant.

It plays almost like a loose Golden Girls reboot — each woman has her own distinct personality that is very different from the other. There are near-constant zingers in the group, and the story breaks away to follow each woman’s arc. The biggest takeaway from Book Club, for me, is the reminder of how funny Candice Bergen is. She doesn’t really get the chance to sink her teeth into a role much these days, and she’s hilarious. But these women are all great, and they complement each other very well.

Bill Holderman’s directorial debut is serviceable, but there is definitely a lot of work to be done. The script is clunky in spots, and these women improvise quite a bit to pick up the slack. The direction is also sloppy, including some noticeably bad green screen in a few spots. But the charm of these four women carries this film over the finish line, and it’s a fun night at the movies.

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