“Rage against the dying of the light,” said poet Dylan Thomas. An understandable sentiment, to be sure. But I wonder if he’d take that to include meaning, say, that elderly ladies should read “Fifty Shades of Grey” and get exceedingly hot and bothered by S&M soft porn?
Is it ageist to not want to view 70-something actors making out on the big screen? Maybe it is; maybe these are things we don’t think about enough in our convenience-subservient, old-folks-home culture. After all, senior residency staff members say the level of randiness in bushes and broom closets is off the charts.
If you fancy a movie about geriatric titillation, then “Book Club” is your movie. It spares the details (kinda) and mainly tries to be a rollicking comedy. Except the jokes are mostly of the see-’em-coming-a-mile-off, ba-dum-bum (cymbal crash) variety.
Meet the Elders
One thing “Book Club” does a lot of is the photo-editing of ancient photos. It’s startling, because while Jane Fonda in her “dotage” can just about compete with women 50 years her junior, being reminded of what she looked like in her bombshell prime is shocking. Ditto Candice Bergen. The apexes of 1960s screen sirens are photo-edited together as sorority sisters, or some such relationship. Must’ve been Alpha Alpha Alpha house. Anyway, alas, the way of all flesh.
Ever since “Sex and the City,” any four women in one place are going to be matched with those “archetypes,” which would make Jane Fonda’s character Vivian the Samantha of the group. She owns a hotel and acts like a man, until she finds a man who’s manly enough to make her feel feminine. That would be her ancient flame played by Don Johnson.
Then there’s Diane (Diane Keaton), who’s recently lost her husband and has two pesky, controlling daughters (Alicia Silverstone and Katie Aselton). This is the full-on Keatonism-cliché package: dithering, flapping, cooing, posing, sighing, twirling, muttering, looking up from under the eyebrows, grinning the sly grins, showing the fabulous many-teeth smiles, and wearing the signature Annie-Hall-ish garb.
She’s chased around by Mitchell (Andy Garcia), a wealthy inventor-pilot, and this detail in particular reveals “Book Club” to be shamelessly catering to elderly female fantasies in the same way soap operas used to shamelessly hire tall male models and short, more realistic-looking women to fulfill the fantasies of American housewives stuck at home ironing, cleaning, and swirling diapers in toilets.
Garcia’s character is the type of wealthy, adventurous, older virile alpha who’d be successfully attempting to lure women half his age. That aside, here he functions as the calm anchor that women of Keaton’s advanced dither-and-flail capacity dream about.
Next up is Sharon (Candice Bergen), a dowdy judge, who, inspired by “Fifty Shades,” tries online dating with her generation’s comprehensive lack of computer savvy. Suffice it to say, Bergen is the only one to make her story believable, and the only one with actual, palpable (and hilarious) chemistry with her date (an understated but rather delightful Richard Dreyfuss).
Lastly, Carol (Mary Steenburgen) has been married a very long time to husband Bruce (Craig T. Nelson). Cue Viagra pill jokes. As it turns out, the only married woman of the bunch puts more emphasis on her husband’s happiness than her own, which may give feminists fits, but she would at least appear to be less agitated than her single friends. It’s probably easier to renovate, rehab, and refurnish, rather than build the love house anew from the ground up.
Getting the Groove Back in the Twilight Years
I read an article once about how elderly women have two choices: 1) go blue-haired with little old lady shoes, or 2) become brazen hussies wearing their gray hair long, bulging out of bikinis, and drinking all the wine they want. Makes sense.
The premise of “Book Club” is that new romantic love is the apex of human existence and that, by golly, women of all ages should go out and get some—find it, revive it, put Viagra in your husband’s wineglass—whatever. Get some, regardless of what your are hormones are hollering.
But isn’t it that they are not hollering? Isn’t that all a bit undignified? Well, since when have we ever cared that much about dignity in America? Let me say this: If this movie were even a tiny bit more graphic, we might discover we care a lot more about dignity than we thought. I’ll leave you with this song:
“To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose, under heaven.”
Director: Bill Holderman
Starring: Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen, Mary Steenburgen, Richard Dreyfuss, Craig T. Nelson, Don Johnson, Alicia Silverstone, Ed Begley Jr., Wallace Shawn
Running Time: 1 hour 44 minutes
Rated: PG-13 (for sex-related material and language)
Release Date: May 18, 2018
Rated 2 stars out of 5