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Saturday, May 19, 2018

Book Club

Book Club is a perfectly standard and sweet movie that is lifted up by the incredible cast it managed to rope in.  Even if the movie is nothing to shout about, it's likable, and it's also a lot of fun to watch the actors play off one another.  How can it not be fun when you have Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen, and Mary Steenburgen sharing the screen?  Throw in winning performances by Andy Garcia, Don Johnson, Richard Dreyfuss and Craig T. Nelson as the men in their lives, and it's almost impossible not to enjoy yourself.

The plot finds the four leading ladies as best friends since their college days, who get together for their Book Club where every month, they pick a book to read and, at their next meeting, they discuss their thoughts.  Vivian (Fonda) is the owner of a luxury hotel, and the most flirtatious and sexually active of the group.  Diane (Keaton) is a recent widow who is trying to live her life, but her overly protective adult daughters (Alicia Silverstone and Katie Aselton) constantly fret over her, and are afraid of her living on her own.  Sharon (Bergen) is a Federal Judge who is still hung up on her divorce from 18 years ago, and is taking the first steps into on line dating.  Finally, Carol (Steenburgen) is a successful restaurant owner who is desperately trying to liven up her relationship with her husband, Bruce (Craig T. Nelson), who has become emotionally distant and uninterested in physical intimacy since his retirement.

At their latest meeting, it is Vivian's turn to pick this month's book, and she has chosen 50 Shades of Grey.  Her friends initially don't seem enthused about reading a "sex book", but as they start to read it, they are all captivated by the kinky exploits of the novel's heroine and her sexual awakening.  The movie misses ample opportunities for satire regarding the trilogy of Grey books, but it's really not important, since the books serve as a jumping off point for the plot, not the basis.  Each of the women find their own love lives reignited around this same time.  Vivian has a hook up with a former flame named Arthur (Don Johnson, whose daughter Dakota starred in the film versions of the 50 Shades books).  He proposed to her once, and she rejected, but has never forgotten him.  Now he's back in her life, and their love is rekindled.  Diane finds herself having a fling with an airline pilot named Mitchell (Andy Garcia, charming and funny here) that could lead to a real romance.  Sharon has a dinner date with a man from the dating site named George (Richard Dreyfuss) that could grow into something more.  And Carol becomes more determined than ever to spice up her relationship with Bruce.

Book Club is a movie that has been written with a predetermined path and destination, and is another one of those movies where you could walk out of the theater for a half hour, come back, and amaze your friends by accurately guessing what has happened while you were out.  And yet, the movie does have plenty of small laughs and even some big ones here and there, which helps liven things a little.  But it is the chemistry of the actors that really makes the film worth watching.  After all, a romantic comedy like this lives and dies on the fact that we want to see the characters get together in the end, and that we like the characters or the performances.  Here, we not only get some great scenes when all four of the lead women are together (they give off a comfortable vibe that helps with the illusion that they have been friends for over 50 years), but we also get a lot of great individual romantic scenes with the women and their respective men.  In particular, Fonda and Johnson create a lot of sparks in their scenes, as do Keaton and Garcia.  Everyone brings a certain warmth and personality to the film that you eventually don't care if you've heard the story before and better.  You just enjoy the company.

If I were to single out my favorite couple in the film, it would easily be Keaton/Garcia.  Keaton is sweet as a woman who finds her life worth living again, while Garcia delivers the film's funniest performance, getting off some great one liners.  Fonda and Johnson are wonderful together as well, particularly during a scene when they share a conversation in a diner that holds a lot of memories for them.  Steenburgen and Nelson don't stand out as much, but this is intentional, since their relationship is supposed to be mostly distant.  That being said, the climax to their story is probably the most memorable.  Only Bergen is a semi-weak point, as the movie doesn't do enough with her personal journey.  Her best moments are when she is with the other women. 

I wouldn't say that Book Club has any deep insights into love and relationships, but it doesn't pretend to.  It's just a sweet movie that serves as a nice alternative for older viewers looking for their own summer movie the same weekend that Deadpool 2 is gobbling up the young adult market.  The movie is charming enough to work, and the performances only help lift it.

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