content warning: This post mentions some sexual themes, including sexual assault/rape. If that’s something that you want to avoid, I’d advise you to click away.
This post is going to deviate a little from my usual style. I usually stick to books on this blog, sometimes talking about adaptations of books. This time, I’m talking about a standalone movie. A chick flick that’s not based on a book. In a way it is, I guess. Enough justifying, I saw Book Club and I need to talk about it.
In a nutshell, Book Club is about four women who have had a book club since 1978. They’ve met every month since then and into the modern day (the movie never says outright what year it takes place in, but it’s safe to say from the clues such as using devices like iPhones and tablets, as well as a focus on online dating, suggests that it’s probably in 2018, or at least within the last few years. It has to take place after 2012 for reasons that will soon become obvious). They soon decide to read…50 Shades of Grey. If the synopsis is to be believed, then reading this book absolutely is going to change all of their lives.
I’ll be honest, the characters in this movie were pretty forgettable. I forgot their names almost as soon as I left the theater. Luckily, we live in an age where I can pull up the movie’s Wikipedia page. I’m not sure if any of the characters have last names. Anyway, there are four main characters to know. Vivian (Jane Fonda) is a wealthy hotel owner with a fear of commitment, enjoying one-night stands over long-term relationships. Sharon (Candace Bergen) is a federal judge struggling to get back in the dating game after her divorce 18 years prior. Carol (Mary Steenburgen) is a chef whose husband is struggling to be intimate with her after his retirement. Diane (Diane Keaton) is a recently widowed mother of two.
This movie doesn’t really have a lot of plot. It’s a character-driven romantic comedy. It’s a good thing that the movie focuses on character development since a lot of these characters have a LOT of developing to do. It was really hard to sympathize with any of these characters since a lot of the time they were just kind of…awful. They’re not particularly flat as far as a mainstream rom-com goes, but I couldn’t help but wonder if the audience was really supposed to relate to these characters and even cheer for them. I’ll be honest that a lot of the enjoyment I got from Book Club was schadenfreude from watching people’s bad decisions play out.
I got a few laughs from some low brow dirty humor that was also to be expected. Then again, it’s a PG-13 rated movie based on a trilogy of kinky erotic novels. It’s pretty tame, mostly in innuendo. It’s not terribly original stuff, but one joke stands out to me and still gives me a chuckle. During a montage showing the ladies reading their copies of 50 shades, one of them is watering her plants and the moisture meter on the plant jumps from dry to wet. I’ll admit I laughed at that one.
At its best, Book Club is a nostalgic, if unoriginal, movie for fans of these actresses with a somewhat hamfisted book deal supporting it. At worst, it has some pretty poorly thought out and disturbing implications. The worst of that was Vivian’s suggestion for a solution to Carol’s intimacy problem. Drugging her husband’s beer with viagra. Drugging him against his will and without his knowledge with the intention of having sex with him, possibly against his will. Even though he calls her out later, revealing that he’s been in a fragile emotional state since his retirement party and hasn’t felt up to sex, the joke is still there. The movie seems really confused as to whether it was intended to be a joke or a seriously disturbing thing to even think to do.
Implications of date rape aside, there’s one distracting thing that unfortunately spoiled my enjoyment of the movie. Was 50 shades of Grey necessary for the story? I would say no. It’s treated like this catalyst for the entire plot, but even if you take it away you have a movie about a group of old friends trying to rediscover the passion and romance that they enjoyed in their youth. The book club aspect could be something to help show a common interest that’s kept them together for all these years. The tie-in with 50 Shades of Grey seems like a clumsy marketing move.
All in all, I don’t think that I would recommend Book Club to anybody. When it’s good, it’s okay, but when it’s bad, it’s downright disgusting. As a 21-year-old, I admit that I’m not in the demographic that would have a nostalgic connection to the leading ladies. But regardless of the actresses, it comes across as hastily written without enough attention to see things through or think about its implications. Whether you have that nostalgic connection or not, I’d recommend giving this one a pass.