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It seems like a shameless ploy: Take a general romantic comedy and piggyback off of a popular work of fiction that has a built-in audience base already. The thing though about shameless ploys, though, is that they often work. Book Club is a movie about a group of older women reading Fifty Shades of Grey for the first time, but it knows its audience and it knows how to have a blast with that audience. As such, Book Club may not be required weekend viewing, but if the words Fifty Shades of Grey don't turn you off, it is worth a watch.
The plot of Book Club is neither here nor there. Four ladies, Vivian (Jane Fonda), Diane (Diane Keaton), Carol (Mary Steenburgen) and Sharon (Candice Bergen), have been in a book club for years. At the start of the movie, they decide to spice things up by reading Fifty Shades Freed, a book which brings them awareness of their own love lives (or lack thereof). As the movie progresses, the women keep reading the popular trilogy, beginning new romantic entanglements along the way. There are lots of Christian Grey jokes, and some of them even land.
Performances aren't phoned in, although Jane Fonda could probably phone it in and we would never notice. In fun fashion, Mary Steenburgen gets an adorable moment where she tap dances for an audience and Diane Keaton is into all kinds of wacky stuff, including hanging out in a pool on a giant inflatable swan. Her kids, played by the underused Alicia Silverstone and The League's Katie Aselton, are kind of wacky, too. Candice Bergen is given the least amount to do, and perhaps it's just as well, as her monogamous-for-18-years character is certainly the stuffiest of the bunch. But even she gets a nice moment where she finally comes to peace with her previous, disastrous marriage.
Book Club isn't the sort of movie where you invest in the characters overly. I was paying attention to this film, but I still felt as if I was watching Fonda, Steenbergen, Keaton and Bergen hanging out in the book club over the characters themselves. I think the only name I picked up in an hour and 44 minutes was Vivian, and that's probably because I always wished my mother had given me a glamorous name such as that one. Still, the movie, while predictable, is well-edited. Many of the jokes are funny, some are even the unexpected laugh-out-loud kind, and all of the female leads are completely relatable without being boiled down to one basic quirk or characteristic.
As for the men of the species? Book Club employs some of the usual suspects as love interests. Craig T. Nelson is on board as Bruce, Carol's husband. Andy Garcia and Don Johnson both pop up as eye candy, and we get appearances from the likes of Richard Dreyfuss, Ed Begley Jr. and Wallace Shawn, as well. Of the bunch, Craig T. Nelson gets the meatiest role, and much of that is still reserved for Viagra jokes. Hey, it's supposed to be a story for the ladies! Still, the movie is directed by a man, Bill Holderman, a guy in the industry who is making his directorial debut with Book Club after working on A Walk In The Woods and The Conspirator, among other movies. I wouldn't say this was an especially auspicious start, but it's probably enough to land the man another budget.
Toward the end of my screening, I looked over to my right just in time to see the gorgeous seventy-something woman next to me --a woman who intriguingly enough reminded me of Jane Fonda -- smack her lips and note, "Well, that was cute." A thumbs up from the audience the Paramount movie is shooting to target? Probably the best compliment this movie could get.