In an industry that defines “mature audiences” as anyone old enough to vote, a movie centered entirely on women over 65 — a sex comedy, no less — feels like some kind of small Hollywood miracle. Book Club probably won’t go down as a career highlight for any of its stars; there are way too many Oscars and Emmys between them to pretend otherwise. But even a surfeit of boner jokes and Barbra Streisand-style Vaseline on the lens can’t ruin the novelty of watching four of the best actresses of their generation splash around in a film that actually lets them live, not just tastefully fossilize in some designated elder-citizen corner of the screen.
The monthly meetup of the title is mostly an easy device to bring its four wildly different protagonists together: flinty federal judge Sharon (Candice Bergen), a confirmed cat-and-chardonnay divorcée; skittish widow Diane (Diane Keaton), devoted to her two grown daughters; bubbly chef Carol (Mary Steenburgen), desperate to reignite the spark with her taciturn husband (Craig T. Nelson); and winky libertine Vivian (Jane Fonda), a cherry-haired hotelier who devours men like pillow mints.
Vivian’s the one, not surprisingly, who brings in Fifty Shades of Grey for the next group read — tapping E L James’ lead-foot prose and light bondage to steer the ladies toward their own sensual reawakenings. And so begins the vagina-and-Viagra punchline jamboree, some jokes tired (can a sad housecat ever not be a metaphor?) and some surprisingly sharp (a pretty great Werner Herzog nod). That’s also where the cavalcade of hopeful suitors and conflicted exes — Andy Garcia, Don Johnson, Richard Dreyfuss, and Ed Begley Jr. among them — come in, but they’re mostly just there to look handsome, awed, or bewildered. At heart Book Club is strictly a girls’ club: salty and silly and still crazy, after all these years. B