The appreciably bawdy new comedy Book Club—about a group of well-off, white wine–drinking, 60-something ladies—has a visual moment that’s so jarring, and yet so apt for the experience at hand, that it caused me to gasp aloud in the theater. It has to be seen to be believed, but let me try to describe it: One of our four heroines, the recently widowed Diane (Diane Keaton), is on a date with the dashing airline pilot Mitchell (Andy Garcia), who whisks her off to a restaurant with a view in sunny Santa Monica. As the two chat, the film cuts to a wide shot of them in front of a wincingly obvious CGI background, a green-screened view of a romantic sunset that looks like stock footage from a karaoke video.
That’s Book Club through and through—a team of talented pro actors playing against scenery that’s too chintzy to ignore, but too shameless to really dislike. It’s a delightfully tacky summer romp that feels destined to become a classic in basic cable reruns. The film assembles an all-star cast of award-winners (Keaton, Mary Steenburgen, Jane Fonda, and Candice Bergen) and lets them loose on an entirely rote script about the perils of love and sex in your mid-60s; the result is best enjoyed with an afternoon glass of Chardonnay.
The ladies of Book Club are all thriving successes on paper who have become unmoored, or at least a little listless, in their personal lives. Bergen plays Sharon, a federal judge who has sworn off dating after divorcing her dolt of a husband (Ed Begley Jr.), even though he’s moved on to a younger woman. Steenburgen is Carol, a famed chef and restaurateur who is in a bit of a sexual rut with her husband, Bruce (Craig T. Nelson). Fonda is Vivian, a wealthy hotel owner who refuses to get entangled in any serious romance for fear of getting hurt. Diane recently lost her husband, and her two grown daughters are pressuring her to move in with them in Arizona, fearing for her loneliness.
The one constant in these women’s lives is their book club together, some 40 years strong, always hosted in one of their lovely California homes. One day, Vivian picks Fifty Shades of Grey as their monthly read (to the consternation of the rest of the group), and it’s a risqué enough choice to stir up some deep questions