Though I was obviously aware that I in no way, shape, or form fall within Dirk Diggler’s reach of the target demographic of Bill Holderman’s Book Club, upon seeing the trailer, I was curious as to what the focus of the film would be. There were so many various directions of so many various magnitudes in which a premise of this sort could potentially navigate that I found the concept somewhat intriguing in spite of myself. Plus, hey, you expect me to review the new movies (right?) and I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for Mary Steenburgen ever since I was a kid and my mom’s affinity for the holidays resulted in my watching One Magic Christmas approximately six-thousand times.
If you aren’t familiar with the film, Book Club centers on a group of longtime friends (Steenburgen, Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen, and Jane Fonda) who still make time to meet once a month for their . . . you guessed it . . . book club. Their club’s theme for the year (quite the commitment) is books that have been adapted into movies, so, when her turn comes around, Fonda’s Vivian chooses Fifty Shades of Grey as that month’s assigned reading. The book’s saucy content reignites the flames of the ladies and they set out to once again learn how to live life to the fullest . . . primarily by getting laid.
Going into the film, I was truly intrigued. Was this film going to be a commentary on the social impact that the Fifty Shades series has had on modern American culture? Would it address the series’ more problematic messages from the perspectives of older, more experienced women? Or perhaps the narrative would go in the opposite direction and take a stand on behalf of E. L. James’s best-selling franchise, proclaiming it to be nothing more than harmless entertainment. Well, it turns out that, for better or for worse, the movie really doesn’t do much of either.
James’s book really doesn’t have any significant influence on the friends outside of pushing them towards the revelation that they have come to find their own lives to be boring, as if they’re all simply waiting to die. None of them are suddenly pulling on leather dominatrix masks or donning spikes. Of course, nobody – including myself – was exactly asking for that. But let’s be honest; the movie would be the talk of the industry if that had actually happened. Instead, the narrative focuses on the women and their internal search for excitement and fulfillment. I suppose this is fine and even the appropriate take on the premise, but I can’t help but feel that the film plays it extremely safe considering all of the possibilities.
The other people in my screening seemed to be enjoying themselves, however. Then again, as I stated, I’m not the target audience. They very much were. Look, I can’t speak for them, their experience, or their interests. My only real point of reference is what I see my grandmother watch on television when I go to visit her for Thanksgiving, which is lots of Fox News, Dr. Phil, true crime, and scripted crime. So, while I suppose there’s nothing wrong with three of those four things, none of them really light the world on fire with copious amounts of wit, intelligence, or humor. So, if that is anything like the general viewing habits of senior citizen women, then Book Club would come across as the height of groundbreaking, sophisticated entertainment the likes of which Rupert Murdoch has never imagined.
The film is a bit long for its subject matter. It’s mostly fine, but does begin to drag a bit, as it has more endings than The Return of the King (find that #ThrowbackThursday here). Truly, the ending took so long that I half-expected to see the Square Enix logo appear when it was all over. Continuing with the video game analogy, each of the four characters gets their own “ending”, so to speak, which of course makes sense from a narrative point of view, but could have been pared down a bit to keep it moving along a little more briskly.
To be fair, though, I wasn’t having an awful time. The film isn’t exactly a paragon of introspection (despite its half-hearted attempts to be otherwise), but the cast – including, besides the four leads, the likes of Craig T. Nelson, Don Johnson, Andy Garcia, Alicia Silverstone, Wallace Shawn, Ed Begley, Jr., and Richard Dreyfuss – are experienced and talented enough to elevate the material to the level of amusing and entertaining. This is the senior citizen set’s own version of Blockers (but not nearly as good). I don’t think many – if any – of you fit within this film’s target demographic any more than I do. But, if you end up going with your mom or grandmother or whoever, I don’t expect you’ll have the worst time of your life. It’s not as if this is The 15:17 to Paris; it’s not a bad movie. It’s just safe and predictable.
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