Fonda. Bergen. Keaton. Steenburgen. “Book Club.” Sure, “Avengers: Infinity War” came out a few weeks ago, but this, now this is the greatest crossover event in history. Four of the most iconic actresses of the 20th century come together for a film in which their book club reads “50 Shades of Grey”? When can I line up?
This film is either in your wheelhouse or it’s not, but for those looking forward to “Book Club,” it delivers. For what it is — a breezy bit of fantasy featuring four beloved actresses talking about sex, baby — it’s exceedingly enjoyable. But beyond its shiny surface and real estate pornography, the film, is a way to talk about the ways in which older people are desexualized in our culture.
That it gets there through E.L. James’ tortured pop-erotica prose is pretty silly, but at least the characters have some perspective on the questionable quality of the “50 Shades” trilogy, and we don’t have to delve too deeply into the world of Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey’s red room.
Each actress is given a role that hews closely to her own persona. Fonda plays a wealthy, age-defying hotelier, Vivian, fond of her independence and thigh-high boots, currently entertaining a younger lover from another era, Arthur (Don Johnson).
Diane Keaton plays the hilariously high-strung Diane, a recent widow and the mother of two condescending adult daughters pressuring her to move to Arizona to play grandma.
Steenburgen is Carol, a chef and devoted wife to Bruce (Craig T. Nelson), trying to put some spark back into their 30-year marriage.
But Candice Bergen steals the film, playing a long-divorced, no-nonsense federal judge, Sharon, exploring online dating for the first time since learning of her ex-husband’s young new fiancee. Her dry wit is an essential grounding element in a film that could otherwise be far too flighty to take seriously.
Each subplot is rather perfunctory, but it’s lovely to see a film where older women are wined, dined and courted by somewhat younger men. That Hollywood would even dream up a bit of escapist fluff where Andy Garcia romances Diane Keaton is refreshing.
The ultimate message of “Book Club,” beyond asserting the vitality, sexual appetite and humanity of older people, is that everyone of any age who feels stuck in their ways has the opportunity, nay, the responsibility, to shake it up and put themselves out there. Which is even a heavily sanitized version of the message of “50 Shades.” “Book Club” just might be the best adaptation of that book series yet.
Rated PG-13 for sex-related material throughout, and for language.