It’s a credit to TV’s greater curiosity and openmindedness that when I beheld the four stars of “Book Club” — actresses ranging in age from 65 to 80 — my thoughts turned to how recently I’d seen them on their respective shows or in headlines about their upcoming series.
The ensemble romantic comedy benefits enormously from Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda and Mary Steenburgen keeping their comedic and dramatic muscles warmed up (though a stiffer Candice Bergen has her bravura moments, too). None of the women are asked to do anything too strenuous in “Book Club,” but their collective charisma — along with their male co-stars’ — add up to an irresistible charmfest.
The premise of “Book Club” sounds, to be honest, excruciatingly dumb: A quartet of elderly friends are inspired by the “50 Shades of Grey” books to spice up their sex lives. But first-time director Bill Holderman, who penned the script with Erin Simms, smartly adds a pinch of salt to the sweetness to amplify both sides of the flavor spectrum.
The film’s aspirational, 60-is-the-new-40 fantasies feel grounded enough in emotional truths and aging concerns that the most unrealistic thing about these literate ladies, who deliver guffaw-worthy lines about Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild” and Werner Herzog’s “Cave of Forgotten Dreams,” is that they never once mock “50 Shades” author E.L. James’ atrocious prose.
“Book Club” opens with an awkwardly Photoshopped snapshot of the four main characters in their youth, clinging to their copies of Erica Jong’s “Fear of Flying.” Now a few years shy of 70, all but one feels erotically adrift. The exception is commitment-phobic Vivian (Fonda), a luxury hotel owner (in attention-grabbing animal prints) who’s happy as a lifelong bachelorette but finds herself drawn to an old boyfriend (Don Johnson) who’s visiting Los Angeles.
The others are in various stages of sexual shutdown. The most resistant to an erotic rekindling is federal judge Sharon (Bergen), who internet-stalks her ex-husband (Ed Begley, Jr.) and his decades-younger new fiancée and seemingly hasn’t been on a date since her divorce 18 years ago. Chef Carol (Steenburgen), the only one friend still married, struggles with her husband’s (Craig T. Nelson) utter lack of interest in sex.
Widowed homemaker Diane (Keaton, in a first-rate set of her signature androgynous garb) is needled by her condescending daughters (Katie Aselton and Alicia Silverstone) to move to Scottsdale, where she can be stuffed into the basement and supervised 24/7. Diane shows resistance even before she meets a stranger on a plane (a positively smoldering Andy Garcia) who’s willing to show her everything she missed out on during her lackluster marriage. Richard Dreyfuss and Wallace Shawn make brief appearances, but somehow Sam Elliott does not.
To be sure, “Book Club” has more goofy gags than it does witticisms. An arrow on a plant moisture meter twitches from “dry” to “wet” when a character gets lost in Christian Grey’s Red Room, and Nelson’s character is marched into several situations fly-first after a Viagra accident leaves him fuming and erect. The cast is just as game for the broad humor as it is for the emotional beats; the latter’s familiarity doesn’t detract from its poignancy.
As movingly as each character’s romantic and/or familial storyline wraps up, though, I wish the core cast had a few more scenes to themselves. They share such an easygoing chemistry — and the inevitable scene where the friends diagnose one another on what they’re doing wrong hints at such layers of friendship — that it felt disappointing that their decades-long bond wasn’t the focus of the movie. The men are a treat. But there isn’t quite enough of the women to comprise a feast.
50 Actresses Over 50 Who Still Rule Hollywood (Photos)
These strong women have aged gracefully — while still governing Hollywood.
Aside from the fact that she's the only black woman to win an Oscar for Best Actress, she recently starred in "X-Men: Days of Future Past," "John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum" and two movies in the "Kingsman" series.
An accomplished SAG and Emmy winner, Davis starred in ABC’s hit series "How to Get Away With Murder" and the two "Suicide Squad" movies (including a 2021 sequel). She also starred in the 2020 drama "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom."
The Oscar nominee has been busy, voicing the mother in Pixar's "Inside Out," playing Cleo Trumbo in "Trumbo," and Martha Kent in 2013's "Man of Steel" and 2016's "Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice." She starred opposite Kevin Costner in 2020's "Let Him Go."
Taraji broke out in "Baby Boy," and has garnered recognition for her roles in "Hustle and Flow" and 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button." She most recently starred in "Hidden Figures" and rocked everybody's world as Cookie on "Empire."
After turning heads in "The Passion of the Christ" and two of the three "Matrix" films, the Italian actress returned to the silver screen as a Bond girl in 2015's "Spectre." And then starred as Italian photographer Tina Modotti in the miniseries "Radical Eye."
The actress broke out in the late-'90s series "Ally McBeal," then starred in films like "Charlie's Angels" and "Kill Bill." In 2019, she wrapped a long run playing Watson in CBS' Sherlock Holmes series "Elementary."
Since her days as a "Friends" leading lady, Kudrow has been active in film and TV, playing characters in Netflix’s "BoJack Horseman," "Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising," the 2019 indie hit "Booksmart" and the Netflix comedy "Space Force."
After appearing in "Elysium" and "Carnage," the Oscar-winning actress took a break from acting and returned to directing with 2016's "Money Monster" starring George Clooney and Julia Roberts and an episode of "Black Mirror." She then appeared in front of the camera in 2020's "Prisoner 760."
With a career that spans four decades, Jason Leigh earned an Oscar nomination for 2015's "The Hateful Eight," then starred in shows like "Twin Peaks," "Patrick Melrose" and "Atypical" as well as movies like 2020's "The Woman in the Window."
Despite the 2016 cancellation of her short-lived sitcom "Angel from Hell," Lynch has made strides in the past few years, hosting NBC's "Hollywood Game Night" and earning Emmy attention for "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel."
Having appeared in both mainstream and art-house films, Moore received acclaim for her Oscar-winning performance in "Still Alice." She followed with showy roles in 2020's "The Woman in the Window" and Julie Taymor's "The Glorias."
Lorraine Toussaint (birthdate: 04/04/60)
Starting her career in theater before transitioning into film and TV, Toussaint has appeared in Ava DuVernay's "Selma" and the short-lived Fox series "Forever." She's also received praise for her work as Vee in Netflix's "Orange Is the New Black" and series like "Into the Badlands" and "The Village."
Though she's known primarily for her film roles, including her turn in Spike Lee's 2016 drama "Chi-Raq" and 2018's "Black Panther," Bassett is a TV regular, particularly in FX's anthology series "American Horror Story" and "9-1-1."
In addition to being a TV personality, a two-time Oscar host and an LGBTQ advocate, DeGeneres found time to reprise her role as the forgetful blue tang in Pixar's 2016 hit "Finding Dory," the sequel to 2003's "Finding Nemo."
The Georgia-born Oscar winner returned to film in 2012 after a seven-year hiatus, and has since had roles in "The Big Sick," "Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice," and TV shows like "Here and Now" and "Succession."
Russo, a Vogue model-turned-BAFTA nominated actress, juggled lots of roles in recent movies, including Marvel's "Thor," the neo-noir thriller "Nightcrawler" the Nancy Meyers comedy "The Intern" and 2019's "Velvet Buzzsaw."
The actress and producer has kept busy since ending her long-running daytime talk show, overseeing her OWN network and appearing in series like "Greenleaf" and movies such as "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" and "A Wrinkle in Time."
A well-known character actress, Steenburgen has appeared in several TV shows (Fox’s "The Last Man on Earth," Netflix's "Orange Is the New Black") and films ("Song One," "A Walk in the Woods"). She starred in the 2016 drama "The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea" and 2018's "Book Club."
One of the most recognized and active women working in Hollywood today, Streep is keeping her acclaimed acting streak alive. Recent projects include "The Post," "Little Women," Netflix's "The Prom" and HBO's "Big Little Lies."
The "Ghostbusters" alum has been in 12 movies since 2010, ranging from "Chappie" to "The Cabin in the Woods." She had a cameo in 2016's female-led remake of "Ghostbusters" and stars in James Cameron's upcoming "Avatar" sequels.
Since her breakout debut in Francis Ford Coppola's "The Godfather Part II," Coll has had recurring TV roles in shows like "Switched at Birth," "Glee" and "Teen Wolf." She starred as Alba Villanueva in the CW's "Jane the Virgin."
The Oscar winner is another one of Hollywood's biggest and most active actresses, including memorable turns in recent movies like the "Red" and "Fast & Furious" series as well as shows like "Catherine the Great."
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Nicole Kidman joins Robin Wright, Viola Davis, and Laura Linney among the stars making waves on screen
These strong women have aged gracefully — while still governing Hollywood.