Impressive Cast Wasted On Formulaic Quasi-Sex Comedy

December 7, 2018
  • 4/10
    - 4/10


Book Club

Director: Bill Holderman

Cast: Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, Mary Steenburgen, Andy Garcia, Craig T. Nelson, Don Johnson

Running time: 104 mins

Censor Rating: M Offensive language & sexual references

TOBY WOOLLASTON checks out Book Club. But should he have curled up with a book and a wine instead?

In his directorial debut, Bill Holderman (who wrote the screenplay for A Walk in the Woods) has delivered a conservative package of feel-good twee and whimsy that straddles that awkward line between amusing and irksome. Unfortunately, Book Club tends toward the latter.

Book Club’s impressive cast is wasted on the lightweight script of Holderman and co-writer Erin Simms, focusing on four ageing (but not yet aged) women who regularly get together for, yes, you guessed it, a book club.  Although, they really should have called it Wine Club as they seldom are without a glass of plonk in hand.  

Whiteness is everywhere – the furniture, the sets, the lighting, the wrinkles on their faces… even the wine they’re drinking is white.  The only thing not white is the decidedly beige plot. Typecast roles fill out the group: The film’s widowed mainstay, Diane (Diane Keaton), the divorced Federal Judge, Sharon (Candice Bergen), the sexually charged free spirit, Vivian (Jane Fonda) and finally the married but frustrated Carol (Mary Steenburgen).

When Vivian brings Fifty Shades of Grey for the group to read, it re-awakens their sexuality. The film becomes a quasi-sex comedy for the elderly as the women attempt to reignite their love-lives. A cavalcade of suiters roll past the camera; the old flame (Don Johnson), a debonaire pilot (Andy Garcia) and the internet dating accountant (Richard Dreyfus). Even the married Carol gets in on the act as she slips her hubby (Craig T. Nelson) some Viagra.

It’s all fairly silly stuff – a kind of puerile whimsicality that is accentuated by Peter Nashel’s ingratiatingly buoyant musical score. To be fair, it does settle down and even delivers a couple of mildly amusing gags, but for the most part Book Club makes it almost impossible to suppress your cynicism. Yes, it will appeal to those who want to switch off and be entertained by a film as light and fluffy as a pav on helium. But if you’re after more heft, you’d be better off curling up on the couch with a good book – and pouring yourself a wine.

Clearly the producers knew word of this formulaic film would get out, and their attempts to make amends has delivered us a Blu-ray brimming with extra content. And to be fair they have packed quite a lot of goodies on the disc: Six special features in total comprising of over an hour of extra footage, deleted scenes, interviews with the cast/crew and behind the scenes footage. Makes it almost worth it. The main feature is clean, sharp and innocuous (in part due to the ample set lighting).  The setup offers audio description for the vision impaired and English captions for the hearing impaired. The sound is delivered in DTS Master HD, a nice touch but expected of Blu-rays these days.

Toby is currently a film reviewer for the New Zealand Herald and NZME’s regional media. A film enthusiast since Alien made him shit his pants as a nine-year-old, Toby recently completed a Masters thesis on the phenomenology of the cinema of Darren Aronofsky. So he is well qualified to tell you that phenomenology is a load of boring bollocks… but Aronofsky is quite interesting.

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