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Review: Book Club Has Heart, If You Read Between the Lines

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Youll have to forgive the ladies of Book Club for being a little late to the game. Though everyone else was reading E. L. Jamess Twilight fanfic turned mega-best-selling Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy back in 2011, this quartet of old friends has been busy with other things. Diane (Diane Keaton) is mourning the death of her husband while being bombarded by her overly attentive daughters (Alicia Silverstone and Katie Aselton). Carol (Mary Steenburgen) is experiencing marital ennui with her newly retired husband (Craig T. Nelson). Sharon (Candice Bergen) is too consumed with her work as a high-powered judge to go on dates, let alone read smut. And Vivian (Jane Fonda) is, well, too busy having sex and being fabulous.

They finally get to reading the books in the new comedy from director Bill Holderman (he co-wrote it with Erin Simms), getting so hot and bothered by Anastasia Steeles sexual awakening that they find themselves on their own journeys of self-discovery (or rediscovery), yielding comedic rewards with a poignant sheen.

With its tasteful home decor and ladies-of-a-certain-age glow, Book Club brings to mind the films of Nancy Meyers—deliberately, I assume. Thats a dangerous comparison to court, as Meyers is an exacting expert in the art of expensive, aspirational comedy, and any attempt to emulate it can look cheap if it falls even an inch short. Thats a fate suffered by Book Club, which is rendered pretty insubstantial in the glaring light of Somethings Gotta Give and Its Complicated. Ah, well; its still a decent lark, peppered with sharp jokes (one about Werner Herzog lands particularly well) and glazed with all the affirming sentimental stuff youre really there for.

I was particularly taken by Sharons story line, which deals with nothing higher or lower stakes than the act of putting yourself out there, venturing onto dating apps and hoping against hope that something might stick. The success of Sharons mission is not so much incumbent on her finding a steady beau as it is on finding the confidence to realize that she is, at least, deserving of one. Those of us in the weeds of dating, no matter our age (well, O.K.—if youre like, 30 and younger, stop complaining), can surely relate to something in that, especially in a lovely little closing monologue that Bergen delivers with just the right wistful pang. Bergen is consistently the best part of Book Club: natural, dryly funny, and, in a non-pitying way, quietly heartbreaking.

Shes rivaled only by Andy Garcia, who plays Mitchell, a laid-back love interest for Diane. A millionaire inventor whos a commercial airline pilot for fun (sure?), Mitchell is a persistent suitor without being overbearing (well, maybe hes a little overbearing), striking an amused, but friendly, pose while he watches Diane flail herself into fits. This is a Full Keaton performance, flustered and turtlenecked and almost inhuman. Keaton is one of the best there is, no doubt. But she can sometimes, especially of late, get lost in the idea of herself, as if shes trying to find what makes her her rather than just, yknow, being herself. In Book Club, shes a collection of Keatonisms in search of a real person. She finds a center toward the end of the film—this is a movie that wraps up well—but for a lot of whats come before, shes exhausting. At least Garcia is there to help temper things, to keep Keaton tethered to the planet until she regains her bearings.

I dont love that Carols plot is really about the husband and not about her, but Steenburgen finds charm in the details, using her warm, folksy pluck to keep the story bouncing along. She maintains her calm dignity even in a scene in which she has to argue with Nelsons character while hes sporting an erection. Carol gets her moment to shine by the end (again, the movie is good at endings), but I do wish that reading Fifty Shades had led Carol on the path of her own enlightenment, rather than toward soothing whats wrong with her husband.

Fonda has fun as a the groups de facto Samantha, kicking around in body-hugging outfits, swilling booze (I think someone has a drink in their hand in just about every scene of this movie), and prodding the other gals to live a little. Vivian lives by a particular code that is the stuff of pure movie gimmickry, but her steadfast rejection of intimacy—other than sex, of course—is challenged by the re-emergence of an old flame played by Don Johnson. (I like the little joke of Johnsons casting: his daughter is the star of the Fifty Shades movies.) Fonda finds the humanity in Vivians canned conflict, hitting little notes of melancholy amidst all the vamping.

If Book Club is trying a little too hard to be a wine-and-woo-hooing ladies-night-out romp, thats forgiven by the fact that its being released at a time of year when most other movies are aimed at the decidedly younger and the decidedly male. Im reluctant to find much fault in a movie that celebrates older women getting their groove back, released in the twin shadows of the Avengers and Han Solo—though in styling itself after Meyerss white and wealthy view of the world, Book Club does present a rather narrow demographic scope of its own. Still, I left the film feeling heartened and, yes, a little teary, cheered by the notion that spirit and spontaneity can be regained no matter our age or experience. Turns out it wasnt Fifty Shades of Grey that gave these women their mojo. It was, of course, in them—and in us!—all along.

Get Vanity Fairs HWD NewsletterSign up for essential industry and award news from Hollywood.Full ScreenPhotos:Famous Women Have Been Defying Gender Norms and Rocking Menswear for Years

Marlene Dietrich

The German star for her captivating voice and distinct style looks spiffy as she poses circa 1940. Dietrich, who was also quite public about her fluid sexuality, famously wore a tuxedo in 1930s Morocco, and blazed the trail for making menswear sexy for women onscreen.Photo: By Bob Thomas/Popperfoto/Getty Images.__Katharine Hepburn__

Katharine Hepburn

The actress was not afraid of playing with gender in the way she dressed. In the 1935 film Sylvia Scarlett, she played a woman who dresses like a man to help her debt-ridden father. But she also took the suave look into her daily life, as seen in this photo taken in London, circa 1952. In the 1930s, when women could be arrested for wearing pants in public, Hepburns bold affection trousers did not go unnoticed.Photo: From Keystone/Getty Images.__Brigette Bardot__

Brigette Bardot

The French actress goes for a stroll in the Via Margutta in Rome, circa 1967.Photo: From Keystone/Getty Images.__Patti Smith__

Patti Smith

The rocker, never one to follow the norm, made a crisp white dress-shirt and tie her signature look for a time, including for this Saturday Night Live performance in 1976.Photo: From NBC/Getty Images.__Janelle Monae__

Janelle Monae

The actress and singer, who has made menswear her signature as much as Dietrich and Hepburn before her, adds a pop of red to her suit at the 2016 B.E.T. Awards.Photo: By Bennett Raglin/BET/Getty Images.__Kristen Stewart__

Kristen Stewart

“James Dean has been reincarnated,” and her name is Kristen Stewart now, Kate McKinnon recently said of the actress. At the 2016 Cannes Festival, she paired some Vans with her suit jacket.Photo: By Pierre Suu/GC Images.__Victoria Beckham__

Victoria Beckham

The wide legs of Beckhams suit flow as she leaves her New York City hotel in May.Photo: From Gotham/GC Images.PreviousNext

<strong>Marlene Dietrich</strong>

Marlene Dietrich

The German star for her captivating voice and distinct style looks spiffy as she poses circa 1940. Dietrich, who was also quite public about her fluid sexuality, famously wore a tuxedo in 1930s Morocco, and blazed the trail for making menswear sexy for women onscreen.By Bob Thomas/Popperfoto/Getty Images.

<strong>Katharine Hepburn</strong>

Katharine Hepburn

The actress was not afraid of playing with gender in the way she dressed. In the 1935 film Sylvia Scarlett, she played a woman who dresses like a man to help her debt-ridden father. But she also took the suave look into her daily life, as seen in this photo taken in London, circa 1952. In the 1930s, when women could be arrested for wearing pants in public, Hepburns bold affection trousers did not go unnoticed.From Keystone/Getty Images.

<strong>Brigette Bardot</strong>

Brigette Bardot

The French actress goes for a stroll in the Via Margutta in Rome, circa 1967.From Keystone/Getty Images.

<strong>Patti Smith</strong>

Patti Smith

The rocker, never one to follow the norm, made a crisp white dress-shirt and tie her signature look for a time, including for this Saturday Night Live performance in 1976.From NBC/Getty Images.

<strong>Jodie Foster</strong>

Jodie Foster

The child star rocks a vest and suit to promote her 1976 film Bugsy Malone.By Terry O'Neill/Getty Images.

<strong>Carrie Fisher</strong>

Carrie Fisher

At the peak of her Star Wars fame, the late and beloved actress and writer dons a tie at Winter Garden Theater in 1979 with Paul Simon, whom she would marry four years later.By Ron Galella/WireImage.

<strong>Grace Jones</strong>

Grace Jones

The singer wears a stylish suit at the Carre Theater in Amsterdam in 1981. In her 2015 memoir, Ill Never Write My Memoirs, Jones explored her own gender expression and relationship to androgynous presentation through fashion. “I was outside of race and gender,” she writes. “I considered myself energy that had not been classified.”By Rob Verhorst/Redferns.

<strong>Diane Keaton</strong>

Diane Keaton

The queen of menswear dons a white suit complete with bow tie at the Beacon Theater in New York City in 1982.By Ron Galella/WireImage.

<strong>Annie Lennox</strong>

Annie Lennox

The Scottish singer and songwriter knows how to make a suit look good on stage. Seen here circa 1989.From The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images.

<strong>Winona Ryder</strong>

Winona Ryder

At the height of her young career in the early 1990s, Ryder gets dapper at a party with friend Jodie Foster.From The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images.

<strong>Julia Roberts</strong>

Julia Roberts

America's sweetheart tries a suit on for size, circa 1990.By Jim Smeal/WireImage.

<strong>Bianca Jagger</strong>

Bianca Jagger

Jagger keeps things looking snazzy in 1990.By Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage.

<strong>Madonna</strong>

Madonna

Madonna greets friend Debi Mazar at the screening of Malcom X in 1992. Over the years, she has continued to pull off this look, including in her onstage performances.By Robin Platzer/Twin Images/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images.

<strong>Princess Diana</strong>

Princess Diana

The royal was also a fashion icon in her time. Here she is in 1994, leaving the hospital after visiting her brothers new baby.By Julian Parker/UK Press/Getty Images.

<strong>Ellen DeGeneres</strong>

Ellen DeGeneres

When she hosted the 2007 Oscars, DeGeneres sported this velvet suit—far surpassing even the most dapper male hosts.By Kevin Winter/Getty Images.

<strong>Chloe Sevigny</strong>

Chloe Sevigny

Sevigny is pristine in all white at a Cipriani Wall Street event in New York City, 2011.By Rabbani and Solimene Photography/WireImage.

<strong>Cate Blanchett</strong>

Cate Blanchett

The Oscar winner adds some lift to her look in platform shoes as she arrives at the airport in 2014.From GVK/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images.

<strong>Ellen Page</strong>

Ellen Page

Page chooses a skinny tie for her suit at the Vanity Fair Oscar party in 2014.By Adrian Sanchez-Gonzalez/AFP/Getty Images.

<strong>Angelina Jolie</strong>

Angelina Jolie

Jolie keeps it loose on the red carpet at the Royal Opera House in 2014.By Chris Jackson/Getty Images.

<strong>Cara Delevingne</strong>

Cara Delevingne

The model and actress struts her way to the Women in the World Summit in London, 2015.By Neil Mockford/GC Images.

<strong>Janelle Monae</strong>

Janelle Monae

The actress and singer, who has made menswear her signature as much as Dietrich and Hepburn before her, adds a pop of red to her suit at the 2016 B.E.T. Awards.By Bennett Raglin/BET/Getty Images.

<strong>Kristen Stewart</strong>

Kristen Stewart

“James Dean has been reincarnated,” and her name is Kristen Stewart now, Kate McKinnon recently said of the actress. At the 2016 Cannes Festival, she paired some Vans with her suit jacket.By Pierre Suu/GC Images.

<strong>Victoria Beckham</strong>

Victoria Beckham

The wide legs of Beckhams suit flow as she leaves her New York City hotel in May.From Gotham/GC Images.

Richard LawsonRichard Lawson is a columnist for Vanity Fair's Hollywood, reviewing film and television and covering entertainment news and gossip. He lives in New York City.

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