Book Club Review: Four greats; one ordinary rom-com
An average romantic comedy film with an extraordinary cast that makes one wish older actors, especially legendary ones such as these, are given roles with more depth and nuance
It is a fairly well-known fact that actors struggle to find work as they advance in age. And this holds doubly true for women. It doesn’t matter if you’re a legend in your craft, have multiple prestigious honours to your credit, and had the world at your feet in your heyday. Most of the roles that are written for people in their seventies and beyond lack the necessary depth and nuance expected of a film industry like Hollywood. Book Club, that presents iconic stars in Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, and to a lesser extent, Mary Steenburgen, suffers a bit from the pitfalls of cliched writing. The romantic comedy has a few stray moments of genuine laughter and scenes that make you think about the whole process of ageing, but ends up being relegated to average territory on account of a predictable script.
Cast: Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, Mary Steenburgen
Director: Bill Holderman
Four lifelong middle-aged friends in Diane, Vivian, Sharon, and Carol bond over a monthly book club they have been a part of for many years. Diane has recently lost her husband of several decades, and is being coddled by her two children. Her kids fear that she is too old to live alone, and wish for her to move in with them. Vivian is a successful businesswoman, overseeing the running of her posh hotel with a keen and discerning eye. Though she enjoys a string of casual encounters, she has no time for a relationship. Forty years ago, she broke up with a man she loved when he proposed to her. Sharon is the only female federal judge in the United States. Highly respected professionally, Sharon has all but given up on love after her marriage ended almost two decades ago. She lives with her old cat and doesn’t feel the need to date. Carol is the only one amongst the four friends to still be in a happy relationship. She is gearing up for a big fund raiser by signing her husband up for dance lessons. After her husband’s recent retirement party, the couple seems to have lost a bit of their edge. The women lament the state of their soon-to-be old age, when the suggestion of a different kind of book pops up. In contrast to the usual classics they often pick for discussion, Fifty Shades of Grey, gets chosen. Sharon is the least in favour of the choice, believing that stimulating the mind with more intellectual fare is the way to go. The group decides to go ahead, regardless of Sharon’s initial unease, and can’t wait to meet again to share opinions on the raunchy material. As they begin reading, small changes begin affecting the lives of everyone involved.
Book Club is admittedly better than most rom-coms featuring younger characters. The humour is more palpable, and the acting – courtesy a cast of yesteryear greats – is rather believable. All that being said, the film, by the sheer limitations of its genre, does not overcome the average mark. Bits of humour here and there make for memorable viewing – especially scenes involving Bergen’s character, Sharon. Her deadpan humour, expressed very much in a way a high-ranking law professional such as herself would deliver comical lines, is vaguely reminiscent of her brilliant portrayal as Shirley Schmidt in Boston Legal. Another funny scene has Sharon signing up for online dating while the computer clicks her picture for the profile when she is in a face mask. Those solitary scenes apart, Book Club just doesn’t have enough in the humour department to sustain itself. The dramatic portions of the film are so predictable that filling in the missing pieces is mere child’s play. Just as I sometimes felt for the characters onscreen and their predicament, I feel for the actors themselves; Jane Fonda may have gotten quite a bit more character development and depth for a role in her earlier years, for instance. The older one grows, the harder life gets. Acting, like life, is no different. Older actors, more importantly, legendary ones, must have parts written for them that have superior arcs. Book Club may be worth a watch just to see these four ladies again, but it lacks the ingredients of a good film. Half-decent, perhaps, but nothing more.