Book Club is a frank and endearing look at late-life sexuality

by James Robins / 18 August, 2018
RelatedArticlesModule - Book Club movie

When four grande dames of Hollywood take on Fifty Shades of Grey in their literary club, gallivanting ensues.

”I’m not sure this qualifies as literature,” sneers Candice Bergen, holding a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey, the first in a trilogy of titillations that shocked the world – mainly for how badly they were written. The rest of her book club – Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Mary Steenburgen – look equally appalled. They started out in the 1970s reading Erica Jong, and this is how far they’ve fallen?

I mean really, we’ve just put the Fifty Shades film adaptations behind us and now Book Club is subjecting a quartet of Hollywood’s grande dames to barely literate soft-bondage. What’s the safe word, please?

However, this ensemble romcom has a surprise ready to leap out from under the faux-leather. It’s actually quite good – an endearing and frank look at late-life female sexuality, so often ignored or made to seem taboo.

Fifty Shades proves to be a catalyst for an awakening. They all know the books are dreck. What’s more important are the feelings and possibilities that are stirred. Fonda needs no help as a rapacious hotelier allergic to commitment. Bergen, meanwhile, plays a federal judge tempted by the thrills of online dating (cue cameos by Richard Dreyfuss and Wallace Shawn). Steenburgen’s character is the only one still married, though her husband (Craig T Nelson) has become impotent.

As for Keaton, she’s still playing herself, all anxious chuckles and elegantly adapted menswear. Until the ever-charming Andy Garcia flashes a mischievous grin and sweeps her away. And to be honest, who wouldn’t want to be swept away by Andy Garcia? Much of Book Club ought to rankle, especially the aping of Nancy Meyers-style confections: enormous mansions, gleaming kitchens, cafe jazz on the soundtrack, everything ultra-saturated in eye-watering warmth.

The script leans heavily on innuendo, and the only real filthiness is how unashamedly rich everyone is.

Yet there’s real bite and wit in the dialogue (Bergen gets the best lines), and the bulk of the comedy exploits the expectations of older women: that, after the rigours of family and career, they really ought to be bundled into sterile rest homes rather than be allowed to gallivant with grey-haired Galahads. Judging by this, the gallivanting looks joyous. Have at it, I say.

Video: Transmission Films

IN CINEMAS NOW

★★★1/2

This article was first published in the August 25, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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