Cinematic Releases: Book Club (2018) - Reviewed

It is nice to watch older actors do their thing and get an opportunity to remind audiences why they liked them in the first place. The comedy Book Club, about a group of friends who have their sex drives reinvigorated after reading 50 Shades of Grey, gives viewers of a certain age a chance to see some old favorites back in starring roles. Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen and Mary Steenburgen play the friends. They each still have their comic timing very much intact. Too bad the movie is just not particularly funny.

The cast, however, is good. They bring more enjoyment than the lazy, cliché-ridden, screenplay deserves. All four of the women have their own personal stories, none of which contain a lot in the way of surprises or creativity. Luckily, the actresses are able to get the most out of what little they were given. The male love interests have even less to work with. Andy Garcia, Don Johnson and Craig T. Nelson mainly get to be sincere as they wait for the women to make up their minds. I guess that is usually the women’s role, so it is only fair that the men are pushed to the side this time.

Book Club goes back-and-forth from farce to romance. The farce is occasionally entertaining. It features many unoriginal double-entendres, along with some amusing one-liners (especially from Bergen and Keaton). There is also quite a bit of physical humor, most of which comes off as forced and unfunny. Then it switches to the romances. These are intended to be relatively serious (as compared to the rest of the film). None of the relationships are actually established in a convincing way. Unfortunately, it is a significant part of the story’s arc, making the last act kind of dull.

A mix of raunchy sex jokes and earnest look at the love lives of people past their sixties could certainly work. However, Book Club never fully commits to either, let alone both. The raunchiness is largely confined to the conversations between the women. That is hit-or-miss, though it is the material I enjoyed the most. The physical comedy less so. Same with the obvious gags about how old people are confused by modern dating. The more serious stuff is the romances and those do not possess nearly enough depth to be interesting.

While the initial 50 Shades of Grey concept had the potential to take Book Club in any number of directions, it primarily uses it for cheap jokes. After the book is introduced, it barely factors into the rest of the story. There is a lot that could have been done with it in terms of mining it for deeper laughs or using it to allow the women to look closer at their own lives. Sadly, the film fails to make it past surface level with any of its ideas.

The screening I went to was mainly filled with older folks. They seemed to laugh pretty hard, pretty often. So, perhaps audiences drawn to Book Club will just be happy to see these actors on-screen in starring roles again. It may turn out to be one of those crowd-pleasing movies that is not popular among critics. But when a cast like this comes together, I expect a little more than an uninspired sex comedy. 

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-Ben Pivoz