Book Club is not a good movie and I enjoyed every ridiculous minute of it. It’s like comfort food, but the boxed-macaroni-and-cheese kind: just good enough to remind you of the real thing. You see every moment of tender romance from a mile away, the main group of ladies is as archetypal as a group of ladies can be, and the movie cuts away to a literal cat when vaginas are mentioned, but it’s still fun as hell.
You would be forgiven for thinking Book Club is a Nancy Meyers film, as it contains many of the key traits of the The Flustered Trials of 60+ Upper-Middle-Class White Women school of cinema: no fewer than four bouquets of flowers on screen at a time, an endless parade of flattering blouses and a finale that ends in a tender “mature” adult romance. It was actually directed by a guy named Bill Holderman.
Starring Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen, Mary Steenburgen and Jane Fonda, the movie centers around the titular book club that is thrown into a tizzy when one of the members suggests that they read “Fifty Shades of Grey.” Libidos are revitalized, friendships are challenged and romance blooms, all against the backdrop of a traffic-less L.A. area.
Before I pick this fun-loving romp apart, let me tell you that, a day later, I am still giddy from the whole viewing experience. My friends and I audibly laughed multiple times, as did the two men on either side of us who came solo. It’s delightful. I think the most frustrating thing about the movie, though, is I could never quite track its self-awareness. A lot of the jokes are bad — so bad that I had to assume the writers knew what they were doing. It is aggressively, almost comically white; there are maybe four people of color in the entire thing, and at one point Don Johnson says “true dat.” There are so many friendship clichés packed in that I could almost defend it as ironic. You know how this goes, the script seems to say, this one’s sexy, this one’s kind of clueless, this one’s sarcastic and this one is Diane Keaton.
All that being said, I am confident I will watch this on Amazon Prime in three months.
Written by Bill Holderman and Erin Simms, neither of whom are attractive middle-aged women but I won’t hold that against them, Book Club draws on so many successful formulas you can’t help but hold it up to the light of other, better pieces of pop culture. It begins with a Diane Keaton voiceover about their friend group while the camera pans over a series of fake black and white photos of the women created by someone who lied about being proficient in Adobe Creative Suite. It’s essentially the 2018 version of my other divorcee-focused fave, The First Wives Club. There are jokes about Jane Fonda eating ice cream that I could swear popped up in season 1 of Grace & Frankie. There’s what appears to be some light green screen action throughout, which could be an homage to old Hollywood movies or the result of some budget constraints. Candice Bergen’s character is a variation of Bea Arthur’s Dorothy from The Golden Girls, and Mary Steenburgen is trying her hardest to imagine what it’s like to not be married to Ted Danson.
Please pause for the note I wrote that took up half a page in my notebook: HAAAAAAAAAAYYYYYYYYY ANDY GARCIA. Co-starring as a hot pilot who drives a gold convertible, Garcia pursues Keaton with a whole bunch of sensual mumbling. It was nice to see these women presented as just as desirable as their suitors; the idea that Keaton’s character is too old for Garcia’s is not a plot point. It’s only her two demon adult daughters intent on dragging her off to the Buca di Beppo-laden town in Arizona that are standing in the way of her happiness. Bergen’s character isn’t thrown into some existential crisis about her arms when her ex gets engaged to a younger woman; she instead decides to get herself back out there. In fact, she signs up for Bumble while wearing a face mask and holding her glasses upside down in front of her face, which is the relatable intergenerational content I am here for.
Cheekiness aside, the movie misses out on engaging in a frank discussion about older women’s sexuality and the way we as a culture talk about sex. The light BDSM in “50 Shades” — which serves as a punchline for most of Book Club — didn’t seem that revolutionary to me, as someone who spent too much time on Tumblr in 2010. It would have been more interesting if the script had delved into what this modern mini-sexual revolution would have meant for these women, who were presented as being liberal and fun-loving second wave feminists yet were completely taken aback by the book. We also never see anyone do more than kiss which, like, COME ON. It seems like a moot point to talk about diversity and class issues in movies like this, but a contribution to the sexual discourse would have fit in so seamlessly I can’t help be feel disappointed by the lack of it.
But still: I had a great time! It was a really nice escape. All of the leads are fantastic and seem to be having a ton of fun. Diane Keaton wears a hat in a pool! There’s a two-minute bit about boners! Alicia Silverstone is there! Was it worth the $17 dollars I spent and the possibility of getting bed bugs I welcomed to see it in a movie theater? Probably not. But if you find yourself flying from Seattle to Boston or something, I recommend you order a large white wine and allow the ladies of Book Club to keep you company with all their powdered cheesy goodness.