What a waste of some perfectly wonderful legends "Book Club" is.
It's so great to see Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton, Mary Steenburgen and Candice Bergen join forces at a time when older actresses often are overlooked in Hollywood. Too bad they're floundering about in an undercooked, silly and often downright inexplicable romantic comedy that plays like lesser Nora Ephron.
Much lesser Nora Ephron.
Fonda plays Vivian, the stylish and decidedly single owner of an upscale hotel. Vivian has never wanted for companionship, but she has always put business first and never gotten involved in a serious relationship.
Bergen is Sharon, a federal judge who is still smarting over her jerky husband, Tom (Ed Begley Jr.), leaving her 15 years ago. He has recently become engaged to a much, much younger woman. Sharon, meanwhile, hasn't had so much as a date since the breakup.
Steenburgen is Carol, a successful chef happily married to Bruce (Craig T. Nelson). But ever since Bruce retired, let's just say it's been quite the romantic dry spell.
Keaton is Diane (apparently they ran out of character names), a widow whose two grown children (Alicia Silverstone and Katie Aselton) treat her as if she's a doddering, forgetful, ancient relic who can't be trusted to live on her own anymore, even though it's perfectly clear Diane is vibrant, healthy and in complete command of her faculties.
Each month, the ladies get together to discuss a work of literature they've all just read. One month, instead of literature, they decide to go with "Fifty Shades of Grey," and while you might well expect at least one of these intelligent, sophisticated women to hurl the book across the room after 50 pages and exclaim, "I can't take any more of this claptrap," they're all deeply titillated.
They're also motivated by the story of the winsome young writer Anastasia Steele and the creepy and controlling billionaire Christian Grey. Sharon goes on a dating website and meets a nice guy named George (Richard Dreyfuss). Carol goes to extreme lengths to get hubby Bruce to rev up his engine. Diane falls for a handsome pilot (Andy Garcia) who made millions on an investment and lives on a magnificent spread.
Even the anti-romantic Vivian allows herself to explore genuine feelings for Arthur (Don Johnson), a former lover who has re-entered her life.
(Quick aside: Johnson is the father of Dakota Johnson, who played Anastasia in the "Fifty Shades" movies. It would have been a clever touch for first-time director Bill Holderman to have made this connection intentionally, but, in light of the project's general lack of originality, it's not likely.)
The movie is filmed in bright tones, and it features a bouncy score reinforcing the overall feeling of light escapism. Although some of these characters have experienced tragedies and setbacks — Diane lost her husband, and Sharon never really got over her divorce — none of them has a care in the world.
The plot threads seem forced. When Diane spends the night with the pilot and doesn't report her whereabouts to her daughters, they react as if she has wandered into the desert. We even get one of those scenes where someone rushes to the airport to stop someone from getting on a plane. (There's no thought of calling or texting them. Nor any realization that, thanks to cellphones, the airport-rush scene hasn't worked since the 1980s.)
Like that episode, most of the "drama" our protagonists experience is self-inflicted and almost silly. The same can be said for our decision to watch the movie.
★★ out of 4 stars
Rating: PG-13 for sex-related material and language.