While it might have its target demographic tittering mischievously, Book Club is hardly a cinematic page-turner.
After all, its four legendary leading ladies can only do so much to elevate a flat and predictable comedy with a generic message about sassy seniors making the most of their golden years.
As with most book clubs, discussing the literature takes a backseat to gossiping and drinking wine when four well-to-do Los Angeles friends gather for their monthly roundtable. When they decide to spice things up by reading Fifty Shades of Grey, they begin reconsidering their relationships, too, in impulsive and freewheeling fashion.
Diane (Diane Keaton) is a widow with two overprotective adult daughters who’s cautious about her attraction to an airline pilot (Andy Garcia). Vivian (Jane Fonda) is a luxury hotelier with a fear of commitment who quotes Dylan Thomas and Robert Frost. Sharon (Candice Bergen) is an esteemed judge who turns to online dating as a coping mechanism after a bitter divorce. And Carol (Mary Steenburgen) is seeking a recharge in her marriage while doling out advice to others.
The screenplay by Erin Simms and rookie director Bill Holderman — both longtime Robert Redford collaborators — is loaded with double-entendres while delivering some scattered big laughs and allowing all four actresses some moments in the spotlight.
The cast delivers, of course, by injecting an effortless charisma and natural camaraderie into threadbare material that doesn’t deserve their participation. But at least they seem to be having fun. And for a while, that goodwill extends to the audience.
Yet there are a few sequences that generate more groans than giggles, such as when Carol spikes her uptight husband’s (Craig T. Nelson) beer with Viagra before an embarrassing night on the town. When Vivian and an old beau (Don Johnson) splash around in a public fountain, it’s more contrived than cute.
Perhaps fans of the decorated stars won’t care about such nitpicks. Maybe they’ll relate to the naughty romantic travails and respond to a life-affirming message that’s delivered with minimal subtlety or surprise. After all, it’s nice to see leading roles for mature women in a project targeting an underserved audience in a summer of sequels and rehashes.
Still, it’s disheartening to see this slick crowd-pleaser play it so safe considering the talent involved.