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Book Club (2018)

CRUMBLIES… 4 crumblies

Oh, now this is fun. Old Jack here and every woman in the building gathered in the TV room, macaroons, posh tea and an air of affection for a cracking set of stars tying us to our chairs. This is the province of senior women, their friendships, and their relationships with romance, comedy and sex, all triggered by a raunchy read in their monthly Book Club.

Oh yes. For the oldsters, friends forever, have hit upon Fifty Shades of Grey, with permission (and a cameo) from the author.

It’s a star-fest. There’s passion and sadness in spades, and all the usual oldster stereotypes, but Book Club is a two hour bask in the company of old friends giving it zesty and characterful. Clichés abound, which stops the thing being perfect, but it had the TV Room on its side and it’d take a sourer heart than mine to condemn it for marching us along the straightest road through Romcom-land.

The friends are all at a special stage, needing fresh love, a fact broken open by the book:

Diane Keaton plays Diane, widow and oldster who dresses and emotes like Diane Keaton. She is fending off the entrapments of her daughters, and flight terrors. These are assuaged when she accidentally grabs the personals of the man in the next seat, Andy Garcia playing super-smooth Mitchell. He is a pilot and, well, dating ahoy.

Jane Fonda is the mega-successful, brittle and isolated Vivian. She has sex, not love, and has stuck to the formula since she lost her one and only chance with Don Johnson‘s Arthur. Remember when young poieple were called Arthur? Anyway, they bump into each other in one of her hotels, he flirts his way past her P.A. and, well, romance ahoy.

Then there’s Candice Bergen. Solid, stolid and 18 years divorced, she’s not done the slurpy since and presides with casual authority over her courts. And she is terrifically funny. The book affects them all, but gets her onto dating websites and scanning the greyscale for friendship and love. Emphasis on the jiggier side of love. She has a couple of deeply awkward encounters, all underpinned by rage at her ex husband (a weirdly dyed Ed Begley Jr.) getting ready to marry a gorgeous, youthful and wholly pleasant woman.  But her world is about rediscovering freedoms: such as with Richard Dreyfuss who she has a great time with in a car…oh yes, one-night stands ahoy.

And finally, the sprightly, sexily married, but unsexed for a season Mary Steenburgen. The film has her trying to reignite her husband’s libido, forcing it somewhat, but, you know, old Jack was a happy man when she tried. Until all the women glared and I had to dunk a fudge muffin in my tea to avoid eye contact. Steenburgen drapes herself on a motorbike in an outfit designed for men and…you gotta feel for her husband, Craig T. Nelson‘s Bruce, passion and quite possibly erectile joy wrecked by retirement. Steenburgen’s Carol doesn’t need the book, she knows what she’s doing on the sexy front, alas emotional insight is her blindspot. So, redemption..ahoy…?

Those are the characters on the board. They meet, they read, they stare astounded at the book, its sequel, and its sequel, then let the men dance around them in the usual tribute to living despite your age, taking the risk despite your fears, being alive despite your familiar life. Mad Maud and Timid Tina laughed like drains, Wandering Wanda stayed where she sat, cooing over the tales of sex and affection that played out in the Book Club, and old Jack here found himself smiling to the end.

Was it any good? Yeah, actually. For a surprise-free obstacle course destined for a happy ending, it managed to make staid existence rather sunny. I could carp, of course: they’re all rich, white, educated and safe. But, sod that. What gave me pause in It’s Complicated (2009) is a smugness avoided by the sheer star-power and charm on display here.

Gather ye ladies, and surviving men, this is a charmer for the oldsters.


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