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story.lead_photo.caption Diane (Diane Keaton), Sharon (Candice Bergen), Vivian (Jane Fonda) and Carol (Mary Steenburgen) are four well-heeled women who have been regularly meeting to drink wine and talk about literature since Erica Jong’s novel Fear of Flying came out in 1973 in Book Club.

On the surface, it seems refreshing to have a movie built around women in their 60s, 70s and 80s discovering love and other impulses that in Hollywood products often seem exclusive to the young. Setting the story around a book club is nice touch, but this new offering from co-writer-director Bill Holderman would have been more satisfying if it seemed the folks behind the movie had actually cracked open a novel or two.

Holderman and Erin Simms have built their tale around a quartet of well-heeled Santa Monica women who have spent decades reading and discussing books. Yet recently they've slipped from Erica Jong's Fear of Flying and to E.L. James' trashy Fifty Shades of Grey and its sequels.

Book Club

77 Cast: Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, Mary Steenburgen, Andy Garcia, Craig T. Nelson, Don Johnson, Alicia Silverstone, Richard Dreyfuss, Ed Begley Jr., Wallace Shawn

Director: Bill Holderman

Rating: PG-13, for sex-related material throughout and for language

Running time: 1 hour, 54 minutes

Vivian (Fonda) owns a ritzy hotel and revels in the fact that she has accomplished so much without depending on a man. Sharon (Candice Bergen) is a federal judge who gets past the pain of her divorce by reminding herself that she could, if the mood strikes her, put her loathsome ex in handcuffs.

Carol (Mary Steenburgen) is a successful chef whose newly retired husband, Bruce (Craig T. Nelson), is affectionate but only uses their bed for sleeping. Diane (Diane Keaton) has lost her husband, and her overprotective adult daughter (Alicia Silverstone) wants her to leave California for Arizona, so the rest of the family can be there if she falls or has any other age-related problems.

Once James' novels come into their lives, they don't feel like replicating the kinky acts on her pages (this is a PG-13 film), but falling in love becomes a real possibility. The timid Diane shares a flight with a fellow (Andy Garcia) who tries to reassure her she's safer in the air than on the ground, while an old flame (Don Johnson) tries to convince Vivian their chance at a relationship hasn't passed.

Perhaps my own cynicism is taking over, but both of these guys act more like stalkers than dreamboats. In my limited experience, some women enjoy surprises, but none cares to have strangers hit her up for personal information in public. Perhaps Johnson and Garcia are charming enough to score more phone numbers than restraining orders.

While Sharon's experiences with dating apps have some comic potential, most of these interactions are lazy and unimaginative. When a vet tells Sharon something about her cat, there are double entendres that would make most open-mike comics wince.

There are so many issues mature couples have with intimacy that are worth exploring. Bruce's bedroom troubles would have been more involving and funny if Holderman had treated them with a little more subtlety. Nelson convincingly handles the shame and embarrassment, but having him inadvertently talk about mounting his old Honda as if it were, um, erotic is neither funny nor arousing.

It's just cheap.

The admirable point of the film is that getting older shouldn't reduce people to lowered expectations. (Though the film might have proved a more rewarding story had the characters been reading Colette or Duras instead of E.L. James.) The senior citizens who star in this film certainly prove that, but the younger folks behind the cameras should have aimed higher as well.

MovieStyle on 05/18/2018

Print Headline: Book Club

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