It’s tempting to treat Book Club as the long-awaited sequel to the Sex In The City movies (Sex In The Suburbs?).
Vivian (Jane Fonda) as sex-mad Samantha, Diane (Diane Keaton) as quirky Carrie, Carol (Mary Steenburgen) as the vanilla Charlotte and Sharon (Candice Bergen) as highflying Miranda.
Though if they are, the four women have mellowed. Despite the formulaic arc to this story, the third-quarter “book club turning on itself” section doesn’t last long, as the women are too thoughtful, and know each other too well after four decades of their titular book club.
It’s a truism that reading reveals us to ourselves, and they’ve been finding out about themselves and each other for decades. Their latest book is a little different though, as Samantha, I mean Vivian, decides they’re getting boring in their 60s.
But hold on while I temporarily ignore the incredible line-up of women and pause to say, wow Andy Garcia!
His character Mitchell is the perfect foil for the slightly kooky (does she play any other role now?) Keaton as Diane. A pilot Diane trips over while getting to her airline seat en route to Arizona, he’s warm and just pushy enough without tipping into mini-stalker category. Their slightly awkward encounters, as she struggles to deal with her family’s belief that she’s a rickety old crone, are a delight.
And while Book Club is traditionally structured (setting the scene, branching out to find love, crashing and burning, infighting, a lovely denouement), thank god it is, as I couldn’t have coped if Mitchell had turned out to be Diane’s “zipless fuck”.
I mention the zipless fuck because their book club – comprising federal judge Sharon, chef Carol, hotelier Vivien and Diane – has been going for 40 years. And their first book was Erica Jong’s classic, Fear Of Flying, which introduced the concept of the zipless fuck: sex without any expectation beyond the fun of it.
And it starts to look worryingly as if the last books they study will be the Fifty Shades trilogy, a collection which stands accused of promoting notions of sex where emotional abuse and obsession take the place of equality and fun.
Having said that, while I can confidently say, having read them all twice just to make sure, that E L James’s books aren’t great literature, they are certainly sexy; and have a pivotal role here in reminding the four 60-something women what they’re missing.
Vivien certainly isn’t missing out on sex (we first meet her lazily zipping on a thigh boot while a middle-aged, beribboned army man gets dressed next to her) but she refuses to actually fall asleep with a man and has avoided long-term relationships (tellingly she’s a hotelier, creating beautiful surroundings for rich people to spend a few nights in before moving on).
Sharon is convinced such shenanigans should be behind not just her (she hasn’t had sex in 18 years) but all women (her judgementalism is, she admits to her son, “a professional hazard”).
With a recently retired husband who can barely be coaxed out of the garage, Carol is missing the regular sex they indulged in until he left work. His anniversary present to her is a pair of Eargasms, which turn out not to be fetish-related, but earplugs so she can’t hear him snoring. And widowed Diane isn’t sure she even wants sex any more.
Book Club is much funnier and more moving than I expected. It goes to any lengths for a laugh, from slapstick to plane crash jokes to a terrific Werner Herzog gag which likens older women’s vaginas to his documentary The Cave Of Forgotten Dreams.
Director Bill Holderman mines situations for double entendres with an admirable thoroughness; there are so many pussy jokes I was tempted to rename Sharon Mrs Slocombe. And the scene where Carol’s husband Bruce (Craig T Nelson) talks about his re-discovered motorbike is stuffed with references to undercarriages, buffing the seat, taking her for a ride and many more. You’ll either love it or hate it – I found it hilarious.
The women are a delight together. The first conversation we’re privy to, discussing their latest tome about a hiker who “loses a boot and tries heroin” (presumably Wild, later filmed with Reece Witherspoon), is corruscatingly good.
Later they start Fifty Shades Of Grey: Sharon is literally seen stroking her pussy (a fluffy white cat called Ginsberg); Carol, tending her houseplants, is so focused on the sexy scenes she absentmindedly continues watering them even as her gardening moisture metre shoots off the scale.
Soon Christian’s Red Room and Ana’s lip-biting has them leaving their comfort zones. Sharon tries online dating (with the world’s best-worst profile pic), ending up in a restaurant with accountant Richard Dreyfuss. Vivien’s one-that-got-away, the now older, wiser yet still impossibly handsome Arthur (Don Johnson, in a film about a book that was made into a movie starring his daughter) appears in her hotel.
Carol “accidentally” gives Bruce Viagra in a bar, so as he drives home it’s hard to work out where he starts and the stick-shift ends. And Diane, mistress of nervous giggling and a habitual invitation refuser, giggles nervously and accepts a dinner invitation from Mitchell. (Andy Garcia. I hate to go on about him, but when did he get so hot?)
Book Club does drag in the middle, and also features some of the worst photoshopping I’ve ever seen.
Which is saying something coming from me, considering I once photoshopped Gerard Butler’s head onto the too-small body of iconic British weather forecaster Michael Fish, wearing a jumper decorated with BBC weather symbols, to celebrate the release of Geostorm; only for one of his hardcore fans (Gerard Butler’s, not Michael Fish’s) to point out it couldn’t be a real picture as Gerry’s head was too big and it looks like he’s got no neck.
Despite these issues, Book Club‘s zingy banter, wonderful chemistry between the leads, and the gorgeous funny men really lift it.
The four actresses are on great form (though it would be good to see Keaton playing a role which can in no way be described as kooky or quirky, and that doesn’t involve hats).
I loved seeing Mary Steenburgen again too, reminding me that she and Andie MacDowall were my first “actors I get mixed up”. Fonda looks incredible and I’m about to google to see if Vivien’s boob surgeon is actually real. And Bergen, as the blossoming yet still realistic Sharon, is one of the delights of the movie.