The sweetly bawdy “Book Club” is a film made for a specific target audience: women over 60. The comedy feels familiar, yet it’s one that you can’t help but like. If you’re on the fence about this one, let me make your decision easier: if you look at the poster, know the story, and still think it sounds good, then you’ll adore this film. This is harmless, sentimental fun aimed at mom and grandma, and they’re going to love it.
A group of four longtime friends has been keeping up their monthly book club for decades. There’s Sharon (Candice Bergen), a federal judge who has sworn off men after her ex-husband’s (Ed Begley Jr.) engagement to a pretty young plaything; Carol (Mary Steenburgen), a local celebrity chef who is facing a rut with her husband Bruce (Craig T. Nelson) and is desperate to rekindle the flame; Vivian (Jane Fonda), a wealthy hotel owner with a wild streak who has never been in a serious relationship but is spellbound by the return of a hopelessly romantic old flame (Don Johnson); and Diane (Diane Keaton), a recent widow who is annoyed by the constant worry from her two grown daughters (Alicia Silverstone, Katie Aselton) and has started a secret liason with a handsome stranger (Andy Garcia). This month’s book selection is “Fifty Shades of Grey” and after some initial resistance, the novel stimulates the ladies into doing a bit more than just talking.
What’s refreshing about these women is that none seem like fictional caricatures. They’re all highly successful professionally but are currently facing a few stumbling blocks in their personal lives. Even better is that these are all mature women, a group that is woefully underrepresented onscreen. All of the actors are talented pros who are believable as friends from way back, but I think Bergen is the best thing about this movie. She brings a beautiful and bittersweet spin to her role, and it’s nearly impossible not to love (or at least respect) her character.
Women rule the day (as it should be in a film like this), with all of the male characters taking a backseat. The guys are all charming but with flat personalities, providing a bit of geriatric eye candy for the intended audience. There’s a great cameo from Richard Dreyfuss as one of Sharon’s internet dates, a scene that plays out as a real life “this could happen to me!” fantasy sequence for Baby Boomers.
If you’re even the slightest bit uncomfortable with older women openly embracing their sexuality, then this is not the movie for you. The bosom buddies sit around and chat about men and sex while drinking wine. Lots of wine. There’s lots of old lady humor (think one-liners about hot flashes and Viagra) but plenty of relatable jokes and put-downs for those born after 1950. The film plays like a delightful cable sitcom: not too bawdy but with just the right amount of sass.
With equal parts romance, comedy, and conflict, the formula works even if the script mostly sings a familiar tune. This rom-com is not the cinematic equivalent of a Pulitzer Prize winning novel but is more of a breezy beach read, which makes it the perfect summertime diversion.