[Screen It]


(2018) (Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton) (PG-13)

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Comedy: Four older women find their romantic and sexual longings changed when they read "Fifty Shades of Grey" for their latest book club gathering.
Hotel owner Vivian (JANE FONDA), federal judge Sharon (CANDICE BERGEN), homemaker Diane (DIANE KEATON), and chef Carol (MARY STEENBURGEN) are longtime friends who routinely get together for a small book club gathering and their latest read is the erotic novel "Fifty Shades of Gray." The steaminess of that offering draws different opinions from the women.

For promiscuous Jane, it's no big deal, although she's been thrown for a bit of a loop by recently reconnecting with the guy she lost her virginity to long ago, Arthur (DON JOHNSON). For Carol, she hopes the book might help spice up the recently dead love life between her and her retired husband, Bruce (CRAIG T. NELSON).

Sharon thinks they're too old for such nonsense, having not dated for nearly two decades following her divorce from Tom (ED BEGLEY JR.) who's now engaged to the much younger Cheryl (MIRCEA MONROE). She reluctantly tries out online matchmaking and ends up on a date with accountant George (RICHARD DREYFUSS).

Meanwhile, Diane has lost her husband in the past year, thus causing her adult daughters -- Jill (ALICIA SILVERSTONE) and Adrianne (KATIS ASELTON) -- to believe she's too old to live by herself and should move from Santa Monica to Arizona to be by them. But when she meets pilot Mitchell (ANDY GARCIA) on a flight, she starts to rethink the prospects of that.

As the women continue reading the steamy book and try to figure out the various men in their lives, they discuss all matters related to sex, love, and relationships.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
As a general rule of thumb, Hollywood prefers younger actors to older ones in the belief that they're more attractive -- both in looks and in terms of potential box office returns. That said, actors of both genders can obviously headline films of pretty much any genre. Except, that is, sex comedies.

Sure, there are a few exceptions to that rule, but just like much of society (or at least the younger citizens within it) believes middle and especially older folks aren't sexual, Hollywood typically has even more of that sort of mindset, and thus the genre is typically reserved for the young, pretty and handsome.

Thus, if you heard the sum of the ages of the leads in "Book Club" added up to 563 years, you wouldn't be faulted for assuming the film had a gargantuan cast with multiple, interconnected storylines revolving around twenty or so youngish characters. Sort of like the sprawling romantic comedies the late Gary Marshall made toward the end of his career.

But what if I told you that the film featured just eight major characters and that the average age of the men came to 68.5 years and the ladies clocked in at 71 years? Well, if you're a teenager or younger your response might be "Ewww..." For those considerably older than that, it could be something along the lines of Jim Carrey's "Alrighty thenů" to Wayne and Garth collectively saying "Schwing!"

For everyone else, the movie quotes might be absent, but questions could arise about what writer/director Bill Holderman and co-writer Erin Simms have concocted to take advantage of a cast that includes the likes of Diane Keaton (72), Jane Fonda (80), Mary Steenburgen (65), Candice Bergen (72), Andy Garcia (62), Don Johnson (68), Craig T. Nelson (74) and Richard Dreyfuss (70) , among others.

Well, let's start with the kicking off point of the premise where our quartet of female friends chooses "Fifty Shades of Grey" as the latest literary offering in their titular gathering. It's something of an inspired choice, what with that novel surprising much of society by becoming a big hit among middle to older aged women in real life.

Here, it serves to coincide with and occasionally spur on the romantic and sexual aspects of the women's lives. Fonda's character suddenly finds herself reunited with her very first lover (Johnson) from long, long ago and feels conflicted by feelings of maybe finally settling down for the first time ever, while Steenburgen's hopes the work will reunite some passion with her husband (Nelson).

Keaton's recently widowed character ends up swept off her feet by a charming pilot (Garcia), while Bergin's character, activated by her ex-husband from long ago (Ed Begley Jr.) suddenly being engaged to a much younger woman (Mircea Monroe), enters the online dating world and beds -- or more accurately automobiles -- Dreyfuss' character.

That results in a "Jaws" quote riff of going to need a bigger backseat (despite Roy Scheider's character and not Dreyfuss' delivering the original "bigger boat" quote). And that's about as clever as the writers get, what with the obligatory Viagra clothed erection sequence (that makes one wonder how the MPAA gave this a PG-13 rather than R rating) and lame lewd material such as Steenburgen's character simultaneously reading the novel and watering her plants where the moisture indicator of the latter (and thus also referring to the former) indicates the conditions are "wet."

I suppose those in the targeted age demographic might snicker or laugh aloud at that sort of material and/or appreciate having a film featuring characters who look like them. But not being in that gender or age rage, it did little to nothing for me. That is, beyond making me think what a waste of talent transpires over the film's 100 or so minute runtime.

Even the juxtaposition of the "Fifty Shades" material with the (mostly) reserved characters' sexual proclivities turns into a huge missed opportunity for laughs, especially in terms of any or all of them trying and failing...or succeeding at recreating the S&M aspects found in the book.

Instead, we get material that you'd find in a substandard version of Nancy Meyers flick or the standard mega-cast ones helmed by Gary Marshall ("Mother's Day," "New Year's Eve," etc.). Most of the characters and their stories don't get enough time to feel fleshed out, and the men suffer the most in that regard.

Yes, I realize the film is about the ladies and is for their gender in the audience, but that shouldn't stymie depth and dimension for all who appear on the screen. Perhaps if the film is enough of a hit, those who ultimately make "Book Club 2: Twilight" will step up their game and take better advantage of having a talented cast at their disposal. Until then, "Book Club" rates as no better than a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed May 7, 2018 / Posted May 18, 2018

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