"BOOK CLUB" — 2½ stars — Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, Mary Steenburgen; PG-13 (sex-related material throughout, and for language); in general release
"Book Club" is about a book club. Sort of. That is to say, Bill Holderman's movie is about a group of women who are in a book club, but it isn't really about literature. And depending on your feelings for E.L. James' "Fifty Shades" trilogy, that might be a relief.
The movie, then, is about four longtime friends who have met monthly for decades to discuss the books of the times. "Book Club" examines their relationships with each other and with their significant others (or lack thereof). In a sense, the four ladies represent a quartet of scenarios for women of a certain age.
Sharon (Candice Bergen) is a federal judge who is still reeling from the effects of her divorce 18 years earlier. Her ex-husband Tom (Ed Begley Jr.) is dating a woman young enough to be their granddaughter (Mircea Monroe), and in desperation, Sharon is debating the merits of online dating.
Vivian (Jane Fonda) is a wealthy bachelorette hotel owner who has enjoyed (or at least convinced herself that she has enjoyed) a series of empty, noncommittal relationships since rejecting a proposal from her ex-boyfriend Arthur (Don Johnson) 40 years ago. But Arthur has suddenly reappeared as a guest at her hotel and a new game is afoot.
Diane (Diane Keaton) was in a long-term marriage that produced two wonderful daughters (played by Alicia Silverstone and Katie Aselton), but her husband died a year ago and now the kids want her to move to Arizona to be with them. On her way for a visit, she meets Mitchell (Andy Garcia), a dashing airline pilot who is eager for Diane to fly his friendly skies.
On the surface, Carol's (Mary Steenburgen) relationship with her longtime husband Bruce (Craig T. Nelson) is picture perfect, but sadly, they are having intimacy problems. They are also having dance class problems.
While most of these plotlines seem to act in relative independence to one another, "Book Club" suggests that the impetus for the new and exciting twists in their lives should be accredited to Vivian's decision to have the group read "Fifty Shades of Grey," the first novel in James' now-infamous (and big screen adapted) trilogy about kinky sex. It's a loose connection at best.
Given the circumstances, it will surprise no one that "Book Club" is more or less a vehicle for a near-record number of often predictable PG-13-level double-entendres and sex jokes, mixed in with what in essence are four mini romantic comedies packed into a single ensemble piece.
The results are about what you would expect: watchable but thinly developed plots that only have time to make simple points, several laugh-out-loud individual moments and four veteran actresses (along with some strong support from their male peers) tasked with keeping the whole thing afloat. The downside is that you're basically watching the same story arc (promise, conflict, the threat of failure, reconciliation) play out simultaneously for four characters.
For an appropriate audience, it's a fun and forgettable movie that probably would have worked a lot better if it spent more time on the relationship among the women themselves. Given the caliber of the cast, it seems like that should've been the heart of this one.
"Book Club" is rated PG-13 for sex-related material throughout, and for language; running time: 104 minutes.