June Pictures/Paramount Pictures
Directed by Bill Holderman
Produced by Andrew Duncan/Erin Simms/Bill Holderman/Alex Saks
Screenplay by Bill Holderman/Erin Simms
You may not have read any of the books in the trilogy or seen any of the movies adapted from the books but I would say it’s a fairly safe bet you’ve heard of the infamous erotic romance novel “Fifty Shades of Gray.” And if you have a friend or relative who is a writer then I know you’ve heard of it. If you don’t then try this; first find yourself a writer. They’re not hard to find, trust me. Throw a rock and you’ll hit one. And do me a favor…when you throw that rock, throw it hard. Okay, found a writer? Good. Mention the title to a writer or the name of the author, E.L. James and then stand back. Way back.
Most writers I know were universal in their utter, total hatred for the book, calling it one of the most horribly written books of all time. They called E.L. James all kinds of vile names, questioning not only her talent but her genetic makeup, her intelligence, claiming she must have slept with somebody or something to get that book published. If these writers had shown as much creativity in their prose as they did verbally crucifying the woman, they might have sold 125 million copies of their books as she did hers. Me, I’ve always wondered why these writers were so mad at James and not at the 125 million people who bought the book. She just wrote it. Nobody forced anybody to buy it and read it. But they did. Oh, baby, did they. And went to the movies as well. So therefore, there must have been something in there that spoke to the souls of those 125 million people.
BOOK CLUB isn’t exactly a scholarly examination of the “Fifty Shades” phenomenon but it is the fuel that gets the engine of this movie up and running. Four life-long friends who are now extraordinarily successful women comfortably in their 70’s have a book club that meets monthly. And one month they read “Fifty Shades of Gray” and that sparks them to reexamine their lives and the level to which love and sex (especially sex) figure in those lives.
Vivian (Jane Fonda) owns and operates a luxury hotel. Never married and has no intention of ever doing so. Sexually promiscuous is a polite way of describing her. Raving nymphomaniac would be more honest. Diane (Diane Keaton) is recently widowed and desperately fending off the insistence from her two daughters (Alicia Silverstone & Katie Aselton) that she move to Arizona and live with them as they plainly and openly make no secret of their opinion that their mother is incapable of living by herself. Sharon (Candice Bergen) is a federal judge who has closed herself off from love and sex since her divorce 18 years ago. She’s alone (well, she does have a cat) celibate and likes it that way and is of the firm opinion that once a woman reaches a certain age, sex should stop. Carol (Mary Steenburgen) is a chef owning and operating a thriving restaurant. It’s her marriage that isn’t thriving. Since his retirement her husband (Craig T. Nelson) shows little interest in her and no interest in sex at all and it’s got her worried.
Once these four ladies are exposed to the BDSM sexual practices contained within “Fifty Shades of Gray” they determine to throw convention out the window and go for it. It’s how they go for it that provides the movie with it’s humor and charm. Carol vows to get her husband interesting in boinking her again no matter what it takes. Sharon, spurred on by her ex-husband’s (Ed Begley, Jr.) engagement to a girl young enough to be his daughter gives online dating a whirl. Diane meets a dashing airline pilot (Andy Garcia) in her flights back and forth to visit her daughters and she is immediately captivated by his effortless charm. Vivian reconnects with an old boyfriend (Don Johnson) who was perhaps the only man to ever hold her heart and she’s deathly afraid that he still does.
For all the banter between the women about the eroticism of the “Fifty Shades” trilogy, it’s not the point of the movie. The real point of the movie is to get four iconic acting legends in the same movie and let us have fun watching them do what they do best. Fonda, Steenburgen, Keaton and Bergen interact so well and have such good comedic timing with each other it’s as if they’ve done a dozen movies together before this one. They’ve all been doing this for so long they know how to sell a scene and deliver a joke and make it seem as if it’s the most natural thing in the world. It’s actually a lot of fun just to see them work together.
Andy Garcia and Mary Steenburgen walk off with the MVP award for this movie, far as I’m concerned. Andy Garcia is Rico Suave personified. So much so that halfway through the movie I wanted to date the guy. I’ve always had a fondness for Mary Steenburgen as we share a birthday (February 8) and at 65 it is simply insane that a woman can be that hot. There’s one scene where she’s trying to get her husband interested in doing the horizontal bop but all he wants to do is work on his motorcycle. She shows up in his garage wearing the same waitress uniform she wore when he met her in a diner thirty years ago and she can still into it. And this meathead is totally oblivious. Any man who can ignore Mary Steenburgen in a waitress uniform is obviously in need of psychiatric help or-
-but that would be giving away one of the best scenes in the movie. And it’s a scene where Craig T. Nelson also shows that he hasn’t lost a step when it comes to comedy, either.
I appreciate a movie like BOOK CLUB because like everybody else, senior citizens like to see themselves up on the big screen. They’re living longer, that’s a fact. Used to be that when a man or woman retired they dropped dead from boredom a few years after. Not anymore. I have people in my own family who have been retired just as long (or even longer) as they worked. Seniors are taking care of themselves and as a result are still active in the 60s, 70s and even 80s. Seniors like to get out for an evening or afternoon to take in a movie just like everybody else and they may not want to see a superhero movie or CGI blockbuster. It’s nice for them to be able to see a movie that addresses their interests and concerns and does so in a light, breezy comedy that is designed to do nothing more than more than make you feel good when the end credits roll. It will never be mistaken for a comedy classic but BOOK CLUB is honest in what it does and that’s enough for me. Enjoy.