Review: 'Book Club' is 'Sex and the City' for Baby Boomers
Think of “Book Club” as “Sex and the City: The Golden Years.”
This fiesty comedy stars four women of a certain age — between 65 and 80, if you need to put a fine point on it — who get together and talk about their sex lives.
A straight line can be drawn between these “Book Club” gals and their HBO counterparts. Diane (Diane Keaton) is the Carrie of the group, smart and confident if a bit clumsy in love. Vivian (Jane Fonda) is the Samantha, a self-sufficient sexual dynamo for whom commitment is a curse word. Carol (Mary Steenburgen) is the Charlotte, sweet and somewhat naïve and just wanting things to work out. And Sharon (Candice Bergen) is the Miranda, stubborn and pragmatic in most aspects of her life, especially when it comes to sex.
This Los Angeles-based squad — surely the “Sex and the City” foursome would have tired of New York by their retirement years, no? — gets together once a month to discuss a book, but more importantly to gossip with one another. Things heat up a notch when the ladies choose to read E.L. James’ kinky, clunky bondage fantasy “Fifty Shades of Grey” and they begin to take stock of their sex lives.
Using “Fifty Shades” — “I’m not sure this even qualifies as a book,” Sharon laments — is a gimmicky way to back into the story. But after its initial plot wonkiness, “Book Club” settles into a steady groove and lets each of its four women strut their stuff.
Diane is recently widowed, and her daughters (Alicia Silverstone and Katie Aselton) are urging her to move to Arizona to be closer to them. On her way to visit them, she meets a handsome pilot (Andy Garcia), who turns on the charm and begins courting her.
Vivian bumps into an old flame (Don Johnson), and they rekindle their affair. But she’s torn when she begins feeling, gulp, feelings for him, which goes against her very principles.
The passion in Carol’s marriage to her husband, Bruce (Craig T. Nelson), has long since gone flat. The dance classes she signed them up for aren’t helping, and she’s trying desperately to reignite their spark. Bruce, however, is more interested in restoring his old motorcycle, and yes, “Book Club” makes the metaphorical connection between the motorcycle and their marriage.
Sharon, meanwhile, spent the years since her divorce bitter at men and focused on her career as a judge. At the behest of her friends, she makes an online dating profile, and the tech jokes and dating app shenanigans arrive right on time, like they’re showing up for dinner.
“Book Club” is co-written and directed by Bill Holderman (he also wrote the Robert Redford-Nick Nolte vehicle “A Walk in the Woods”), who gives his accomplished cast plenty to work with beyond older women sex jokes, although there’s no shortage of those.
And while some of the situations are predictable — yes, there’s an extended Viagra gag and yes, there are multiple jokes involving not understanding how new-fangled dating apps work — Holderman and his cast make the most of them, turning what could be a groaner into a crowd-pleasing good time. At several turns, the film gleefully upends typical Hollywood casting conventions by pairing older women with younger men.
“Book Club” is classic counterprogramming in a month where superheroes (“Deadpool 2,” “Avengers: Infinity War”) and “Star Wars” (“Solo” opens next week) are occupying the screens. It’s a comedy with heart and a message of friendship that goes beyond its simple, somewhat contrived premise. In their golden years, the “Sex and the City” gals will be lucky to have it this good.
Rated PG-13 for sex-related material throughout, and for language
Running time: 104 minutes