Book Club, C+
Rated PG-13, 104 minutes
The new comedy "Book Club," which will certainly appeal to a different (and probably older) style of audience from the Marvel-headlined superhero flicks that are dominating the box-office these days, it's essentially a safer, tamer and more predictable version of "Golden Girls," but it's also full of charm and wit that holds its thin storyline together. It's also a rare chance to bring several screen legends together, even if the script seems a tad below their talents.
Diane (Oscar-winner Diane Keaton) is recently widowed after 40 years of marriage, Vivian (Oscar-winner Jane Fonda) enjoys her men with no strings attached, Sharon (Emmy-winner Candice Bergen) is still working through her decades-old divorce, and Carol's (Oscar-winner Mary Steenburgen) marriage is in a slump after 35 years. The lives of these four lifelong friends are turned upside down after reading the infamous "50 Shades of Grey," catapulting them into a series of outrageous life choices.
"Book Club" is an enjoyable piece of "Golden Girls" revisionist puffery, and it's easy to see the "Golden Girls" inspiration in each of its senior-characters: Fonda is clearly Blanche, Bergen is Dorothy, Keaton is Rose and Steenburgen is Sophia. Unlike that classic TV show, "Book Club" tends to play it too safe at times, with bland direction from
producer Bill Holderman and an even blander script from Holderman and Erin Simmons.
Even with the "50 Shades of Grey" angle, it's a bit of a flimsy story with some easy, obvious laughs and cardboard characters that are barely more shaded that Christian Grey himself. Even worse, most of the laughs can already be seen in the trailers, but it helps having a stellar cast who make it better, particularly Fonda and Bergen; Bergen in particular comes close to walking off with the film, and the best thing the script does is play to Bergen's caustic wit and hilarious facial expressions.
Fonda, looking terrific and playing younger than her real 80-something age (yes, you read that right, Fonda just turned 80), also seems to have a good time romancing "Miami Vice's" Don Johnson (interestingly, whose daughter Dakota is in the screen version of "Fifty Shades"), while Keaton has fun cavorting with Andy Garcia, and Steenburgen with Craig T. Nelson. I wanted to see a more developed romance with Bergen's character, and even though Oscar-winner Richard Dreyfuss is prominently featured in the trailers, his disappointingly tiny role is little more than an extended one-scene cameo.
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what will happen at the end, and "Book Club's" pat ending won't surprise any, even if you leave with a smile on your face. It's nice seeing these ladies together, especially Bergen and Fonda, but you won't remember much of it after it's over.