‘Book Club: The Next Chapter’ is Breezy, Frothy and Utterly Joyful

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I will start out by saying Book Club: The Next Chapter isn’t amazing or groundbreaking or original in any imaginable way. There’s a very strong chance this isn’t for you. But it’s also exactly what I needed it to be at this moment in time. There’s barely a plot, and there isn’t even really any serious conflict. But from the minute we begin, to the production photos you see and the sentimental ode to friendship poorly but gamely sung by our four leading ladies you hear over the closing credits, this film is the warmest cinematic hug you can possibly imagine. And it helps when legendary actresses this accomplished and familiar are the ones providing said hug.

We pick up on our 70-something gal group, the wealthy perpetually single hotelier Vivian (Jane Fonda), the widowed Diane (Keaton) who started dating airline pilot Mitchell (Andy Garcia) in the first film, federal judge Sharon (Candice Bergen) who recently retired from the bench, and Carol (Mary Steenburgen), a restaurateur whose trendy Los Angeles eatery closed during the pandemic. Her husband Bruce (Craig T. Nelson) recently suffered a mild heart attack and she’s enforced a very strict lifestyle for the two of them out of fear he’ll take a turn for the worse.

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All four ladies continue their book club over Zoom, during the pandemic. And when restrictions lift and everyone’s vaccinated, they’re excited to gather in person again. Vivian reveals, after never getting married previously, that she and Arthur (Don Johnson), her old flame with whom she reconnected with in the first film, are engaged. After some initial hesitation, the group decides to go to Italy for her bachelorette trip. Highjinks ensue.

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This is a lot like the first Book Club, also directed by the mostly incompetent Bill Holderman, co-written again with Erin Simms. And this creative team never gives this group of actresses the material they deserve. The quips could be a lot sharper and the jokes less hacky, but it almost doesn’t matter because just having these four ladies in the same room and letting them cut loose together was enough the first time, and this time it’s utterly joyful. It’s also one of the first big movies I’ve seen set after the pandemic that acknowledges what we’ve all been through and now what we’re kind of on the other side of. And that definitely made me happy.

And that’s just why I give Book Club 2 high praise. It made me happy. It made me smile for the better part of two hours. That just doesn’t happen very often these days. Does it feel like this sequel only exists to give this cast a chance to go to on a vacation to Italy? It sure does! But why the hell not? It’s a total pleasure to see this gang of legends who clearly have respect and admiration for one another get into entertainingly low stakes shenanigans. 

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Book Club: The Next Chapter may be a nothing-happens movie, considering the alternative, do we really want these four ladies getting involved in some kind of convoluted heist or kidnapping situation? Of course not. We have scenes of them trying on dresses and knocking back cocktails. Candice Bergen, like she does in the first film, has a fling with a handsome stranger who then isn’t mentioned again. A scene involving a heart-to-heart moment with Jane Fonda and Diane Keaton is engaging because it’s a heart to heart moment with Jane Fonda and Diane Keaton. These characters are hardly the point.

The pleasures to be had here are pretty similar to what audiences enjoyed in the first movie, if they enjoyed it. The only thing that feels remarkably different about this Next Chapter is now we have some gorgeous Italian scenery to look at. And this brand of lush escapism that borders on wealth porn is exactly what I want at the movies right now. Would I welcome a Third Chapter? Sure. But I don’t need one. Maybe they can go to Paris and just form another movie around it. But there is plenty to enjoy right here and now. Have a few cocktails beforehand, go with friends and don’t overthink it. You’ll have a good time.

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