One of the distressing truths about the current Hollywood system is that the only way older actresses can get leading roles is by teaming up with other older actresses for dopey ensemble comedies like 80 for Brady, Book Club, and the new sequel Book Club: The Next Chapter. Don’t get me wrong – any time the likes of Jane Fonda or Sally Field get to top-line a major motion picture, it’s something to celebrate. I just wish the studios would find better scripts for them. Watching screen legends do the “crazy/horny old lady” schtick is depressing because we know they’re capable of so much more.
That brings us to this braindead film, in which lifelong best friends Vivian (Fonda), Diane (Diane Keaton), Carol (Mary Steenburgen), and Sharon (Candice Bergen) come out of Covid lockdown and decide to take a group trip to Italy. Each woman has her own individual story arc. Vivian is engaged to Arthur (Don Johnson), Diane is not engaged to longtime boyfriend Mitchell (Andy Garcia), Carol is overprotective of husband Bruce (Craig T. Nelson) after his heart attack, and Sharon meets another traveler, Ousmane (Hugh Quarshie), with whom she hooks up. Their trip is also beset by numerous contrived problems that allow the women to deliver lame punchlines that sound as if they came out of a bad 1980s sitcom.
Director Bill Holderman and his co-writer Erin Simms have no real interest in pursuing any of these threads in depth. Everything in Book Club: The Next Chapter is predictable and formulaic. Here’s one example: In the first 15 minutes, Carol makes an off-hand comment about the hot Italian chef she had a fling with decades ago in cooking school. Later, the women are invited by Ousmane to dine at his friend’s restaurant. (You no doubt see where this is going already.) Carol excuses herself to use the bathroom, and the chef comes in to pour wine while she’s gone. When she returns, she has inexplicably altered her dress to be sexier. That’s when she and the chef finally see each other. This leads to the inevitable predicament where we’re supposed to wonder if she’s going to cheat on Bruce with her old flame. I knew all this was going to happen as soon as she first mentioned him. The whole movie is like that.
What the filmmakers are interested in is taking a paid vacation. A huge amount of screen time is spent showing the women cavorting around Italian locations, including riding a gondola through Venice. Cast and crew must have had a phenomenal time shooting in Italy for a couple months. For the audience, watching Book Club: The Next Chapter is like watching someone else’s home movies – great fun for them, boring for you. The film even displays behind-the-scenes photos over the end credits to solidify they were there and you were not.
Other elements are equally dismal. The age-old “putting on different outfits in a dressing room” music montage is hauled out once again. We’re given forced wackiness, like an insipid incident that lands the women in jail and a bit where Sharon takes the Lord's name in vain while on speakerphone in a church. There are not one, not two, but three sappy, overwritten monologues delivered in the big finale. From start to finish, the film is devoid of cleverness, originality, or genuine humor.
Fonda, Keaton, Steenburgen, and Bergen have all been in classic films. They’ve all given commanding performances. Watching them play one-dimensional characters and hearing them deliver double-entendres that sound like they were written by a 12-year-old boy is depressing. That we’ve come to a point where nonsense like Book Club: The Next Chapter is apparently the best material available to them…well, that’s just criminal.
out of four
Book Club: The Next Chapter is rated PG-13 for some strong language and suggestive material. The running time is 1 hour and 47 minutes.