Review: Iconic Talents Totally Wasted in Shameful Book Club

I loathed this movie—every scene, every joke, every performance, every idea. And the shame of it is, I could envision a film in which the template of a book club opens up the participants’ minds just enough to change the course of their lives by showing them worlds or ways of living that are different than their own.

Instead, we get this steaming dung-beetle vacation home. Book Club is about four older women who have been friends for decades and seen each other through marriages, love affairs, children, job changes and lives fully lived. So naturally they decide to read 50 Shades of Grey as part of their theme of books turned into movies (they’ve just finished Wild).

Book Club Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Because director Bill Holderman (along with his co-writer Erin Simms) apparently has never met a Nancy Meyers’ movie he didn’t love, the book causes a scandal among the group but it also gives a couple of them a few ideas about how to spice up their sex lives, even if some of them don’t need the refresher course.

What angered me most about Book Club isn’t the idea of women in the 60s and 70s contemplating the notion of kinky sex—I’ve seen many a foreign film that handles this theme with actual maturity, rather than giggling at the idea.

No, what infuriates me is that the film casts four of the most important, talented and influential actresses of the 20th century—Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, Mary Steenburgen and Diane Keaton—and has them all playing simpering ninnies or emotionally dead characters who find it difficult to communicate their feelings or find the courage to change the course of their lives at such an age. None of the women in this movie would be as groundbreaking as they are if they were these characters in real life.

Are there people in real life who have these issues? Absolutely. But why waste Fonda’s talents playing a one-dimensional cougar who sleeps with younger men and casts them out with no thought of a second date? Or have Bergen play a powerful judge who is still hung up on her ex-husband (Ed Begley Jr.—and trust me, no one has ever been hung up on Ed Begley Jr.)? Or Steenburgen trapped in a passionless marriage with Craig T. Nelson (viagra jokes never get old, do they?)? Or Keaton get pushed around by her grown daughters (Katie Aselton and Alicia Silverstone) and talked into moving in with them in Arizona?

There are a parade of potential suitors for the single ladies (including such dignitaries as Andy Garcia, Don Johnson, Richard Dreyfuss, and even Wallace Shawn), and did I mention the viagra jokes involving Nelson?

And naturally during the course of the book club’s reading of not just the first book in the trilogy about Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey, but all three, many of the women’s hangups and troubles vanish into the elderly wind at exactly the same time. A film and television producer marking his feature directing debut here, Holderman writes and directs like he afraid to leave any doubt that anyone doesn’t turn out fine in the end.

Friendships and family bonds are repaired as if by magic or under extreme pressure from a countdown clock. But the truth is, no one involved in this movie gets out unscathed. Everyone is something lesser for being a part of it, including those who pay to see it. I actually felt like a chump for believing for even a fleeting moment that something unique and empowering would result from Book Club.

I’m done; to hell with this one.
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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a frequent contributor at /Film ( and Backstory Magazine. He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.