My favorite part of Book Club was Don Johnson’s confused line-reading of the phrase “true dat.” My second favorite part was the opening montage featuring all of the main cast, 30 years younger and monstrously photoshopped into about a dozen snapshots with each other. Everything outside of those moments is kind of a blur, added to which my view of the screen was partially obscured for the duration of the film by the enormous hair of the woman sitting in front of me. That would have been fine, since the scope photography of the film was mostly wasted on overlit closeups and green-screened vistas. That also meant the distraction of the two closed-captioned devices shining in my face like cop car onboard computers throughout the movie just added to the overall experience and allowed me to confirm (twice!) that Don Johnson did, in fact, just say “true dat.”
The number of ways in which this movie is out of touch extends directly from the decision to base the plot around a reading of the Fifty Shades trilogy, the last book of which came out in 2002. Yes, this stuff is still in the public consciousness, from lazy late night talk show monologues to the mortifying films based on the books finishing up their run just last year. But considering how completely the film abandons any thematic or even scene by scene connection to those books, it’s strange that somebody felt the need to cough up for the rights to the series in the first place. It could have been any random Harlequin Romance. Hell, it could’ve been Nancy Drew for all the difference it makes to the story.
It’s also strange that all these actors had nothing better to do with their time than show up for this nightmare. Look at this cast: Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, Mary Steenburgen, Don Johnson, Wallace Shawn, Ed Begley Jr., Andy Garcia, Alicia Silverstone, Richard Dreyfuss, Craig T. Nelson … they all thought this script was worthwhile? Nelson was dying to dance to a Meat Loaf song with Steenburgen? Keaton really wanted to play a character named “Diane”? Or was it just that the studio knew what a dud it had on its hands and had no choice but to blow gold all over the place just to get butts in seats? It’s weird, because everyone is great, if not exactly stretching any acting muscles. I’d love to see this cast all reunite for a movie that has something worthwhile to say sometime.
Book Club, at times, approaches some moments where you almost believe the melancholy that would certainly go hand in hand with a story like this. This mostly involves the Fonda/Johnson pairing, as they’re the two characters with a real sense of some history between them (ironic, since they haven’t seen each other in 40 years, yet Steenburgen and Nelson play a married couple). But that ambition to something deeper and darker is short-lived, bound as the film is to the specific beats of its genre. But if none of that matters to you and all you’re looking for is some senior citizen erectile dysfunction jokes, Andy Garcia shilling for the Sedona tourism board every five minutes and Candice Bergen saying “fuck,” you’ll do just fine.