Veteran actors breathe life into senior-set rom com

Expectations can be a perilous thing. Go into a movie with high hopes, and it’s very often difficult for the actual images on the screen to compare to the ones you conjured beforehand in your head. This is even more of a problem in modern America, where every new feature is promoted to death on every conceivable media platform.

But sometimes expectations can work to a movie’s advantage, and that’s the case with Book Club, a senior-oriented comedy with an all-star cast but also a tiresome premise and an utterly dreadful trailer. I went into this film with the lowest of expectations, and although it’s no Oscar contender, Book Club manages to be a sweet, funny, sexy and romantic diversion for moviegoers of a certain age (this critic included).

Book Club depicts the long-standing relationships of four women: Vivian (Jane Fonda), a successful and defiantly single hotel owner; Diane (Diane Keaton), a recently widowed mother with co-dependent adult children; Sharon (Candice Bergen), a long-divorced federal judge; and Carol (Mary Steenburgen), a vivacious Junior Leaguer in an unfulfilling marriage. Originally friends in college, they have remained together for 40 years through their monthly book club.

All a little too comfortable in their personal routines, the four get shaken out of their complacency when Vivian selects Fifty Shades of Grey as their next club reading assignment. Soon, ostensibly inspired by the lurid bestseller, Vivian, Diane, Sharon, and Carol are embarking on new sexual and romantic adventures that are as delightful as they are implausible. Of course, this creates the opportunity to introduce a male quartet of interests for our leading ladies: Don Johnson, Andy Garcia, Richard Dreyfuss and Craig T. Nelson. 

The premise is laughable (and not in a good way), but Book Club is more than redeemed by acting chops and winning personalities of its stars. Seeing this seasoned but exceptional cast breathe vibrant life into this lightweight material with superb comic timing and character depth is like watching a film acting class. I particularly enjoyed Jane Fonda as the lively —but in truth, fearful—Vivian, and Andy Garcia as relaxed, self-confident airline pilot Mitchell (Keaton’s love interest).

The direction by Bill Holderman (a producer making his directorial debut) doesn’t particularly impress, but he knows enough to get out of the way of his stars. The screenplay by Holderman and Erin Simms is full of trenchant one-liners about romance among the aging, but one suspects they play funnier than they are written, thanks to each actor’s winning delivery.

There is no great art here, but in a cinematic season chock full of lithe superheroes and youthful rom-coms, it’s refreshing and entertaining to have a film that aspires to meet some of the rest of us where we live. I’m not quite Book Club’s core demographic (though I can see it from here), but I still appreciated the effort to broaden the movie landscape even just a little bit.

Also playing in multiplexes in June: It’s the season of sequels. Ocean’s Eight—Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett in a distaff extension of the popular heist movies, June 8; the long-awaited follow-up to a Pixar classic, The Incredibles 2, June 15; and the latest dino-saga, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, June 22.

Mark Fields
Mark Fields has reviewed films for Out & About since October 2008. In addition, he has written O&A profiles of documentarian Harry Shearer and actress Aubrey Plaza. Mark also has written on the movies for several publications in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and his home state of Indiana, where he also served as on-air movie critic for Indianapolis’s public radio station. Mark has been an adjunct instructor of film history at Rowan University since 1998. A career arts administrator, he is the executive director of Wilmington’s Grand Opera House and now lives on Market Street. Mark spent the fastest 22 minutes of his life as an unsuccessful contestant on Jeopardy…sadly, there were no movie questions.