No High-Brow Humor, Just Flat-Out Fun
Geezer comedy goes a bit outside its comfort zone and takes a stab at women this time around with Book Club, a harmless comedy that’s guaranteed to put both a smile on your face with its inimitable charm and your head in your palm with its never-ending cavalcade of cornball jokes and PG-13-level double-entendres. The story is about four sixty-something successful business women who gather monthly to drink wine and to discuss their latest assigned reading. This month’s assignment is E.L James’ Fifty Shades of Grey which serves as the catalyst for the twists in the lives of the women; twists involving sex, love, relationships, and the lack of all three.
They are Federal judge Sharon (Candice Bergen) who hasn’t quite gotten over the effects of her divorce some 18 years earlier nor the fact that her ex is now seeing a woman young enough to be their granddaughter, wealthy hotel owner Vivian (Jane Fonda) who never married but is rekindling the flames with the man (Don Johnson) she scorned some 40 years ago, recent widow Diane (Diane Keaton) whose overprotective daughters are pressuring her to move to Arizona with them, and famed chef Carol (Mary Steenbergen) whose love-life with husband Bruce (Craig T. Nelson) has long since lost its flavor.
The most interesting aspect of Book Club, and one that represents its greatest success, is how co-writer Erin Simms, along with co-writer/director Bill Holderman, have managed to rather seamlessly weave into their story many different aspects of life, living, and growing old that nearly anyone can relate to. Whether it be divorce, death, adult children, marriage-less sex, sexless marriage, or learning to be happy later in life, there’s something here for everyone. And while not every topic is handled with the most delicate care -- nor are any of them explored with any amount of depth -- it all makes for a delightfully tacky diversion from the lycra-tighted noise and chaos of the early summer movie season.
While Book Club never brands itself as high-brow humor, most of its jokes and funny bits are the female equivalent to the fart jokes in old men geezer tales. Whether the giggly viagra site gag, saggy boob quip, or the hilarious perils of online-dating, nothing is off limits here, and Holderman and company are never afraid to go there. And while the paper-thin characters could have used a bit more depth and insight, all lines from the veteran cast are delivered with a sharp vaudevillian adroitness. Pay attention young comics in the audience, you just might learn something about comedic timing and rhythm. These actors have been around the block and certainly know how to make the most of comedy, no matter how silly or crass.
Despite its predictability and gross lack of intelligence all around, there’s enough charm and likability in this film to endear it to a large swath of fans. Plus, it is just flat-out fun to watch these grand ladies have a good time on the screen. The best of the bunch is Steenburgen, mostly due to the fact that her character is dealing with something more grounded and relatable to most. But also because she’s clearly going all in with her character. She’s a much-underrated actress who deserves more of these roles.
Book Club is certainly about a book club, but it is really a story about four ordinary women who represent fairly common scenarios for women of a certain age, a genre that doesn’t get enough attention these days. Though it only digs surface-level deep and never stretches either the audience or its actors, can’t the same really be said about the superhero smackdowns taking place in the next theater over?
(Released by Paramount Pictures and rated “PG-13” for sex-related material throughout and for language.)
Review also posted at www.franksreelreviews.com.