Film & Television

‘Book Club’: A Reluctant Two-Star Review of a Four-Star Film

The fourth and final star of Book Club, Mary Steenburgen, at 65, is the youngest of the group. Originally from Arkansas, Steenburgen moved to New York to pursue acting in the early 1970s. After some survival jobs, she was cast by Nicholson in his 1978 film Goin’ South. This was soon followed by Time After Time with Malcolm McDowell, and her Academy Award-winning turn in Melvyn and Howard. Since then, she has appeared in more than 100 movies and television programs, including A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy and Cross Creek, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and Parenthood, Joan of Arcadia andThe Proposal, and The Help andA Walk in the Woods. More recently, she was featured as an unlikely but enthusiastic grandmother on Orange is the New Black. She was married to costar McDowell for ten years, but it’s her current marriage to Ted Danson that people are most familiar with. They met on the set of Pontiac Moon in 1993 and have been married 22 years, an impressive number for a Hollywood union. Despite what comes across as a very traditional outlook on life, Steenburgen can be as outspoken as her costars. “In my business, guys may age, but it’s not even a question they’re valued. But women my age are supposed to disappear.”

Carol, her character in Book Club, is a successful chef and the only member of the group who is still married. However, after many years and with her husband still getting used to retirement, she worries that her marriage lacks the spark it once had. Fifty Shades opens her eyes to new sexual possibilities.

The four actresses put their all into Book Club, and watching them together is a rare and wonderful treat. However, the script by Erin Simms and Bill Holderman (who also directs) isn’t worthy of them. It’s much too predictable. Vivian, Diane, Sharon, and Carol are all stock characters (the cougar, the ditz, the career woman, the housewife) and each of the fine actresses seems to be recreating a role for which she is already known, albeit loved. Each story wraps up a bit too neatly. There are too many corny one-liners (you can almost hear the punchline drumbeat ‘badumbum‘), and some of the art direction is less than professional. (The older pictures of the book club members together are so poorly photoshopped that I wondered if it was a deliberate choice. Alas, I fear not.)

What certainly is refreshing is the idea that older women are sexy, vital, and interested — in three out of the four stories, at least — in men who are younger. This is quite a reversal of the typical middle-aged man with twenty-something woman we see in most mainstream films. Love interests Don Johnson, Andy Garcia, Richard Dreyfuss are as much as 12 years younger than their onscreen paramours. Only Craig T. Nelson is older than his movie wife Steenburgen.

Watching Steenburgen with Fonda, Keaton, and Bergen is indeed a cinematic treat. If you can get past the clunky dialogue and completely foreseeable happy endings, you’ll enjoy Book Club. And, I hope it makes a lot of money this summer. Because if it does, Hollywood will finance many more movies featuring older women.

Many more — and much better — ones.


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  • Giovanna June 1, 2018 at 4:20 pm

    I thought the name of Candice Bergen’s and Jacqueline Bisset’s movie was “Rich and Famous.” Did it also have the title “Almost Famous”?