The imaginatively titled Book Club, about four women in their late 60s whose love lives are rekindled by reading the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy, sounds like an extended advertisement for the books, but it really isn’t. It’s just the catalyst for an even drearier formula: a story about four old friends that’s basically a dirty sitcom that you have to pay money to watch.
“We’re not spring flowers,” says one of the women.
“More like potpourri!” says another.
It’s like that.
Like many lazily written movies, this one has a narrator, but only in the first and last scenes, and only to establish one of the four as the “main character.” That’d be Diane (Diane Keaton), a recently widowed Californian who dresses like Diane Keaton and has two worrying daughters (Alicia Silverstone and Katie Aselton) who want her to move to Arizona. Every month for the last 40 years, Diane has gathered with her three best friends to discuss a book and drink heroic quantities of wine. The friends are:
– Vivian (Jane Fonda), a workaholic dynamo who doesn’t need a man, never got married, and satisfies herself with casual romantic entanglements — until she runs into an old flame (Don Johnson), that is, who might be the one to finally win her heart.
– Carol (Mary Steenburgen), who’s happily married to Bruce (Craig T. Nelson) except that — stop me if you’ve heard this one before — the spark has gone out of their marriage.
– Sharon (Candice Bergen), a federal judge who got divorced 18 years ago and is content to be a sexless cat lady. Indeed, she seems disgusted by the very idea of romance, until “Fifty Shades” inspires her to start using a dating app.
“Candice Bergen disapproving of things” is an aesthetic I can get behind, but most of this weak, simple-minded routine — from first-time director Bill Holderman, screenplay by him and Erin Simms — is a dud, albeit a glossy dud with a great cast. Andy Garcia plays the smoldering pilot who begins courting Diane; Sharon’s ex-husband is Ed Begley Jr. and she goes on dates with Richard Dreyfuss and Wallace Shawn, though none is present for more than a few moments.
The scenes of the four friends sitting around gabbing and drinking should have been the saving grace, but the banter is seldom witty, and the actresses, beloved as they are, can’t save it with their personalities alone. The whole thing reeks of stale ideas. There’s a Viagra sequence, obviously, and the accompanying boner jokes. The women become panicky bumblers when the situation calls for it. Diane, left with the really old people on the bottom floor of the mall while her daughters go upstairs, says, “I feel like I’m down here in an episode of The Walking Dead.” Because they’re so old, you see, they’re basically the “walking dead.” Get it? If you do, you’re welcome to it.