Focus Features has the right idea in releasing the new sequel, Book Club: The Next Chapter just in time for Mother’s Day. Reuniting four genuine movie icons – Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, Mary Steenburgen – whose first film in this senior franchise, 2017’s Book Club, was a surprise hit making over $100 million worldwide, there was proof positive that older female audience was eager for a night or matinee out at the multiplex if the idea and cast were right. Since then the pandemic hit and changed moviegoing habits for the older crowd, a group that is hard to get back into theatres (although not impossible – witness The Lost City and Ticket To Paradise). My guess is that with this quartet back in fine form, and now all over 70 (!), this could again play with the usual Hollywood conceit that women of a certain age are not boxoffice. Throw in Italy as their destination and you have an early summer confection that could prove to be irresistible for a too-often ignored demographic.
It helps that these four pros have a strong history with the target audience, and also even old fashioned heartfelt fun with the comedy going down as easy as that Italian Pinot Grigio, it does not talk down to its viewers but tries instead to lift them up essentially saying age is just a number and that maybe some great fate is in store if you continue following your path in life , no matter at what point you are. In the first film they bonded over the sexy book, “Fifty Shades Of Grey” and got quite a bit of laughs just based on that. This time the film picks up during the pandemic and the book club is now via zoom as they collectively read and discuss Paulo Coelho’s “The Alchemist”, a novel that no doubt plays directly into the themes returning director, producer and co-writer Bill Holderman and his co-writer and producer Erin Simms want to get across. After that beginning though it is clear the pandemic is behind them and they are really for one more swing at life.
We learn Keaton’s widowed Diane is now living with boyfriend Mitchell (Andy Garcia), while eternally single hotel magnate Vivian (Fonda) has given in and finally agreed to tie the knot with Arthur, a boyfriend from her younger years whom she turned down once but not this time. Sharon (Bergen) is now retired as a Federal Judge but looking for some fun in life, and Carol (Steenburgen) after experiencing some marriage blues with hubby Bruce (Craig T. Nelson) is now guiding him back from a recent heart attack. She comes up with an idea for a bachelorette trip to Italy for the four of them, a vacation they had once planned decades ago while in college but never got to take. So off they go, and of course, as we have seen in countless comedies where Americans head off to Europe, complications and comedy follows with the loss of their luggage at the train station to a cross country drive to Tuscany where their car breaks down and they find themselves in the slammer. From Rome to Venice, the sightseeing is the next best thing to being there, and even if this movie doesn’t rewrite the rules of many a Hollywood comedy in this vein, there is something reassuring about seeing these veteran stars still with us and still able to deliver a warm and inviting time in a movie that hits more than it misses.
Of course there is also romance with the writers finding a way to bring the male stars back into the picture including Garcia, Johnson, and Nelson (we won’t tell you how), and then a couple of new characters with Carol rekindling her relationship with Chef Gianni (Vincent Riotta), the one who got away, and Bergen checking out the tourist spots with the lively Ousmane (Hugh Quarshie). Long time Italian icon Giancarlo Giannini also shows up as the police chief they keep running into.
It all may be a less raucous, slowed down Girls Trip generations removed, but at least it proves a strong alternative to the endless array of superhero and horror flicks flooding the multiplex these days. Your mother and grandmother will eat it up, just as another recent Fonda comedy, 80 For Brady also defied expectations.
Title: Book Club: The Next Chapter
Release Date: May 12, 2023
Distributor: Focus Features
Director: Bill Holderman
Screenplay/Producers: Bill Holderman, Erin Simms
Cast: Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, Mary Steenburgen, Andy Garcia, Don Johnson, Craig T. Nelson, Giancarlo Giannini, Vincent Riotta, Hugh Quarshie.
Running Time: 1 hour and 47 minutes