REVIEW / ROMANTIC COMEDY
BOOK CLUB (NC16)
104 minutes/Now showing/4.5 stars
The story: Diane (Diane Keaton), Vivian (Jane Fonda), Sharon (Candice Bergen) and Carol (Mary Steenburgen) are four friends who meet monthly to talk about books and have done so for 30 years. After the erotic novel Fifty Shades Of Grey is introduced to the group, each, to a differing degree, awakens to the idea that sexual exploration is not only possible, but might even be recommended as well.
The Inside Amy Schumer comedy series has a justifiably famous skit featuring a group of actresses in their 40s and 50s playing themselves. They have gathered to celebrate a milestone for one among them - the last day in which she can pass as a sexually desirable woman on-screen.
The sketch, one with an unprintable name, is hilarious and exposes one of Hollywood's most durable sets of double standards.
Book Club not only breaks that particular taboo, but also does it with a surprising amount of grace.
This take on what happens when a group of women experience a sexual reawakening - at an age when they are expected to drift into happy, sexless dotage - is unexpectedly raunchy, without sacrificing kindness and affection for its main characters.
Director and co-writer Bill Holderman, making his feature debut, does not try to youthify his stars with extreme digital airbrushing, as others have done.
The women here have looks that are age-appropriate for their characters. And they look attractive, though we are talking about Hollywood's idea of ageing.
Therefore, the actresses, who range in age from 65 (Steenburgen) to 80 (Fonda), possess that extremely well-maintained look that exists only in the 90210 zip code and in certain districts of Paris.
While the movie is a romantic fantasy on one level, it makes an honest attempt to deal with the problems that older women face, both physical and mental.
The recently widowed Diane (Keaton), for example, meets the dashing Mitchell (Andy Garcia), after which she has to hide the affair from her needy adult children.
The tetchy Sharon (Bergen) is a computer-phobic judge trying to meet a man online, while Carol (Steenburgen) is trying, and failing, to tickle the libido of husband Bruce (Craig T. Nelson).
Vivian (Fonda) is a millionairess and avowed singleton with a legendary sexual appetite. When she meets old flame Arthur (Don Johnson), she finds to her dismay that sex is easy, but commitment is hard.
There is a warm-heartedness and generosity of spirit not found in, say, the Sex And The City films (2008 and 2010), as the women in Book Club, for example, are blithely brand-unaware.
This low-stakes, lecture-free tone makes a bet that a mildly spicy romantic comedy featuring women old enough to be grandmothers will work. It wins that bet.