Review: In Book Club: The Next Chapter, Legendary Actors are Reduced to Bad Jokes and a Pointless Plot

It’s almost impossible to fathom that the original Book Club was released in 2018. How the world has changed since those more innocent times when four female best friends of a certain age would get together regularly, drink wine, makes jokes about drinking wine, talk about books, make jokes about the racier books they’ve read, and compare notes on their personal lives….

Nothing about the first chapter of this now-series was funny, interesting or memorable, but it did make a substantial amount of money. So naturally, a sequel was bound to plague us. Speaking of plagues, I’m guessing the pandemic delayed the inevitable followup, so Book Club: The Next Chapter has been five years in the unmaking.

I’ll give the new film credit for being one of the few new movies that actually acknowledges that a pandemic actually happened. In the opening scenes, we get glimpses of the ladies—Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, Mary Steenburgen, and (sigh) Diane Keaton—during their months of isolation, attempting to carry on with their book club via Zoom (naturally, at least one of them accidentally turns on a filter that makes her look like an animal of some sort). When the story really kicks in, the ladies are finally getting back together in person for the first time in a very long time, and it’s as if nothing has changed: wine jokes fly and they share updates on dating/marriages/relationships. The biggest news is that Fonda’s forever-single Vivian has just gotten engaged to Arthur (Don Johnson). For those keeping track, Steenburgen’s Carol is still married to Bruce (Craig T. Nelson), but he’s had a heart attack recently, and she’s paranoid about losing him; Keaton’s widow Diane is dating Mitchell (Andy Garcia), but hesitant about getting too serious; and Bergen’s retired judge Sharon goes on the occasional date but is more put out that all she seems good for these days is marrying people, instead of ruling on matters of law.

Helmed by returning director Bill Holderman (who co-wrote the screenplay with Erin Simms), Book Club: The Next Chapter’s big new twist is that the women concoct the scheme to take a trip together to Italy. Initially, most of them are hesitant to go because of their connections to their significant others, but once the trip is re-labelled as Vivian’s bachelorette party, everyone falls in line and starts packing. What follows is your typical and trite story of Americans clomping their way through an ancient country with little regard for the wonder around them, completely caught up in the search for wine and handsome (usually younger) men. On the surface, a story like that could be fun, but the filmmakers make sure that for the second film in a row, some of the funniest, smartest, most groundbreaking risk takers to have ever acted are reduced to clueless, overly simplified punchlines. 

Without going back to my review of the original film, I can almost promise you I had similar issues with Book Club. My admiration for the work these women have done over the decades knows no bounds. Even some of their most recent work holds up (although I think it’s safe to say Keaton is a lost cause), and I’ll almost always turn up for something they’re in. But this movie made me want to avert my eyes. Keaton and Garcia pretend to have a deep emotional connection that shows up nowhere in their performances. Steenburgen runs into a chef who used to be an old flame. Bergen flirts with an Italian police officer (the great Giancarlo Giannini). The only element of this movie that seems even remotely real or human is Fonda’s anxiety and hesitancy about getting married, but even that gets ridiculous once the other ladies spring on her that they’ve planned a surprise wedding for her in Italy at the end of their trip—which of course means a trying-on-wedding-dresses montage. Someone please punch me.

Surprisingly, observing other people enjoy themselves on vacation isn’t really that much fun for those watching. The ladies get their luggage stolen, they get thrown into jail, their car breaks down, all in service of providing a ticking clock to getting Vivian to her wedding on time. Like most of the film, these moments feel artificial, a product of lazy and uninspired writing and actors who are in this to get a free trip to Italy out of the deal. Watching The Last Chapter was draining, frustrating and ultimately depressing, especially when you consider that most of these actors are still doing good work outside of this series. Maybe this is the “one for them” movie they all make to accompany the “one for me” project, but it feels like a compromise (again, except for Keaton). This is a tired exercise is appealing to older audiences, and they should be insulted at the cynical pandering being tossed their way.

The film is now in theaters.

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Steve Prokopy
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.