When I reviewed 2018's Book Club
, I said it was a movie that had been written with a predetermined path and destination,
and was 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 had happened while you were out. Yet, I found the film had a few laughs, and I enjoyed the chemistry of the cast. The Next Chapter
holds onto that same cast and chemistry, but strands them in a nothing plot and a script that lacks the moments of joy I found in the first.
This is the second movie this year to misuse the invaluable talents of Jane Fonda, after the dreadful 80 for Brady
back in February. She's joined here, just as she was last time, by Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen and Mary Steenburgen, who don't fare much better. They are each given single character traits. Fonda is the over-sexed Vivian, Keaton is giving the same dithering performance she gives in every comedy playing Diane, Bergen's Sharon is now retired and bored, and Steenburgen's Carol frets constantly over her beloved husband (Craig T. Nelson) after he had his first heart attack recently. As the film opens, they're suffering through the pandemic and holding onto their friendship via Zoom calls. (Cue the jokes about not understanding technology and filters.) Once the travel ban is lifted, the ladies learn that Vivian is engaged to her lover (Don Johnson), and they decide to fly off to Italy together to celebrate.
I don't expect much from a fluffy comedy such as this. Maybe just a smart line of dialogue, or a hint of wit that is worthy of the intelligence of the women playing the lead roles. What does this screenplay give us? A scene of the ladies making dick jokes while staring at Roman statues. There's not a single scene that is not predetermined, but some of these scenes are just dripping with such stupidity. Vivian mistakes a sexy cop for a stripper, and lands the four ladies in prison. Carol reunites with an old flame, and they share a wild and passionate night of rolling dough together. And of course there are a large number of montages set to Italian remakes of American 80s pop songs to stretch out the run time to feature length and to hide the fact that the filmmakers are floundering to flesh out the plot.
I also get that this is intended to be an escapist fantasy where four elderly women get into a lot of mischief, while their handsome and faithful husbands seemingly do nothing but stay at home and think about them. But even on this basic level of entertainment, the movie doesn't work, because it fails to give its cast anything of interest to do, other than to make PG-13 level sex innuendo. Nobody gets to act like a normal person would in the situations these women find themselves in. They're too busy reciting sitcom level dialogue like second-rate Golden Girls. Look, the first movie was no masterpiece, but I was kind of charmed by the relationships these women built with the men in their lives. This movie makes the mistake of taking them away from what worked, and just casting them to the winds of montages and travelogue scenes.
Some sequels exist to advance the story. Some rehash the same plot and formula. Book Club: The Next Chapter
seems like it wanted to reunite the same cast as the first, and film them fooling around in Italy. Personally, I'd rather watch a candid film about the actors behind the scenes. I bet watching them having a few choice words with their agents off camera would be more entertaining than the actual movie.
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