MOYES ON FILM: Book Club is Fifty Shades of Funny

Star-studded cast squeeze every ounce of fun from an otherwise average screenplay

Let’s face it, a lot of mediocre scripts get made into movies. But great actors can do amazing things with trite scenarios, and when they do rise to that challenge, the results can be surprisingly gratifying.

Such is the case with the hilarious Book Club, which features some Hollywood royalty playing a quartet of accomplished and likeable gal pals who, large glasses of wine in hand, have been assessing novels – and each other’s lives – for 40 rollicking years.

Vivian (Jane Fonda) is a hotel tycoon who shuns love in favour of commitment-free sex. Diane (Diane Keaton) is recently widowed … and burdened with a pair of over-protective adult daughters. Carol (Mary Steenburgen), a gifted chef and restaurateur, finds her marriage in a sexless slump after 35 lusty years. Sharon (Candice Bergen) is a prim and proper federal judge who hasn’t been on a date since her husband dumped her 18 long years ago. And when these book lovers get their hands on Fifty Shades of Grey, its freewheeling embrace of unconventional sexuality provokes all four to have very different – and very funny – late-midlife romantic reassessments.

The subplots come straight from Scriptwriting 101: Vivian unexpectedly encounters the one true love (Don Johnson) she walked away from four decades ago, Carol tries to reignite some marital passion, Diane falls for a sexy pilot (Andy Garcia) but encounters turbulence from her bossy kids, and Sharon wades into the murky waters of online dating with hit and miss results (Richard Dreyfuss, Wallace Shawn).

Shakespeare noted that the course of true love may not run smooth, but here it’s certainly well worn. But even if the narrative rarely surprises, Book Club is full of breezy charm and some very funny sequences that are risqué without resorting to heavy-handed vulgarity. (Even when Carol spikes her husband’s beer with Viagra the results offer a useful life lesson as well as a couple of sight gags that rise above priapic predictability.)

Basically a chick flick featuring sexually attractive 60-somethings, this is an amiable confection that flirts with soggy sentiment a few times but is mostly fast-paced and highly entertaining. The soundtrack is a mix of boomer classics (Bob Dylan, Roxy Music, Paul Simon) and contemporary hits, while the one-liners and double entendres are a similar blend of fresh and familiar. Aside from its lived-in performances, zingy dialogue and mildly provocative premise, this is also an appealing portrait of female friendship.

Rating: ***

Stars Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton, Mary Steenburgen, Candice Bergen

Directed by Bill Holderman

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