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‘Book Club: The Next Chapter’ review: Diane Keaton and Jane Fonda in an affectionate but tense romp


Signed, sealed and delivered, Book Club: The Next Chapter is an unabashed love letter to four great movie stars. As a vehicle for their talents, it is less certain. If you can look past the clunky plot constructs, tense hijinks, and one-liners that don’t land and focus on the Mediterranean flare of Italian comedy and the dazzling quartet of go-getters at its center, the movie might fit the bill. as a festive combination with the Mother’s Day brunch.

The tagline on the main art sums up the sequel’s troubles: “Slightly Scandalous. Absolutely fantastic.” Qualifying that “somewhat” hints at the softer cadence of this reunion. In the 2018 hit, Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen and Mary Steenburgen transcended the often lukewarm humor with their rat-a-tat episode; here returning director Bill Holderman, once again working from a screenplay he co-wrote with Erin Simms, struggles to find a rhythm and too often flat jokes are in the air. As for the fabulosity of this terrifying foursome, it needs no underlining, but Next chapter is very busy with a highlighter, less we forget.

Book Club: The Next Chapter

It comes down to

Not a page turner.

Date of publication: Friday May 12
Form: Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, Mary Steenburgen, Craig T. Nelson, Giancarlo Giannini, Andy Garcia, Don Johnson, Hugh Quarshie, Vincent Riotta
Director: Bill Holderman
screenwriters: Bill Holderman, Erin Simms

Rated PG-13, 1 hour and 47 minutes

Holderman kicks off with Tom Petty’s catchy and pointed “American Girl,” setting up a cheery mood that quickly deflates through six pre-title minutes of the cabal’s Pandemic Zooming. As the world reopens, they agree, after some give and take, to revive a long-aborted plan for a vacation in Italy, one that turns into a bachelorette getaway for Fonda’s Vivian, who is none other than surprises herself when she becomes engaged to Arthur (Don Johnson), the long-ago boyfriend she rediscovered in the previous episode. The powerful hotelier, averse to commitment, enjoys a New York penthouse lifestyle with him, while Keaton’s widow Diane lives the New Mexico dream with pilot Mitchell (Andy Garcia). With their understated supporting turns, Johnson and Garcia provide a welcome antidote to all the over-the-top exuberance.

Sharon, the divorced federal judge played by Bergen, is retired and still enjoys playing the field. Long-married chef Carol (Steenburgen), who had closed her Los Angeles eatery during the COVID lockdown, has taken up the accordion — a real Steenburgen talent, and pretty cool. Not so cool is Carol’s use of household spyware to monitor the eating habits of hubby Bruce (Craig T. Nelson), who is recovering from a heart attack. A ham scene revolving around bacon is the unfortunate result.

The four old friends have moved on from the Fifty Shades trilogy – which jump-started their romance and sex lives five years ago – to the pop mysticism of Paulo Coelho’s self-help fable The Alchemist. The advice to embrace serendipity and not submit to fate as a victim is the unsubtle guiding principle as these super-achieving American girls in their 70s and 80s embark on their Italian adventure. They take their moving feast of comfort and luxury and endless long-stemmed glasses of wine to Rome and Tuscany, with an impromptu detour to Venice. There are landmarks and selfies, gelato and prosecco, and double entendres so broad they could be classified as quadruple. Serendipity comes in the form of sparks between Sharon and Ousmane (Hugh Quarshie), a high-spirited retired philosophy professor, and Carol ignites a culinary flame with Gianni (Vincent Riotta), a fellow chef she once loved.

Daytime scenes are cast in a honeyed light by DP Andrew Dunn, and Stefano Maria Ortolani’s production design pulls off the high-end good life these four are accustomed to. In the midst of such riches, the many misfortunes that unfold like clockwork are never so bad as to cause real panic. But they do provide grounds for confrontations with a clownishly unhelpful police chief played by Giancarlo Giannini. The esteemed Italian actor and Bergen bonded and clashed in Lina Wertmüller’s 1978 romantic drama A night of rain. Here, in a very different vein, Bergen’s no-filters Sharon gives Giannini’s alderman an earful.

Emphasize that Book club is more about the performers than the characters, Holderman interrupts the travelogue for an all-encompassing lovefest sequence at a lavish bridal salon, where Fonda’s bride-to-be and her three besties can all show off their gorgeous selves in a fashion show of dresses. Stefano De Nardis’ costumes shower the actors with affection – especially in Keaton’s case, a tribute to her signature fashion profile.

In the middle of an evening’s festivities, a liqueur brand’s product placement is so eye-catching, the bottle label positioned so precisely in front of the camera, it might as well have been accompanied by a jingle. As for the film’s soundtrack, following Petty’s promise, it falls into a less than impressive mix of vintage pop. A party scene featuring a new rendition of the rousing international hit “Gloria,” led by Quarshie and Steenburgen, could have been great if Holderman didn’t remind audiences at every awkward turn what a party all the characters are having.

Keeping the story thin wasn’t the top priority, it seems; The next chapter moves in and out of a sense of emotional connection. If it indulges in sincere sentiment, the results, however obvious, are a welcome change from the half-baked shenanigans. A scene between Keaton and Fonda hits just because it’s a scene between Keaton and Fonda.

Holderman and Simms’ screenplay subscribes to tradition, but also gently (somewhat?) questions it – especially the tradition of marriage. What is most interesting about this Chapter is that it puts aside the issue of age as a deciding factor and focuses on temperament and personality. And there’s something touching about seeing 80-year-old Fonda as a first bride walking down the aisle, regal and unguarded at the same time.

Hell yes, Hollywood needs more movies about female friendship, and it needs more movies centered on older women. Watching these, it’s easy to admire the signature silhouettes and screen essences of four extraordinary performers: Keaton’s deft, clumsy openness, Fonda’s ineffable elegance and power, Bergen’s unparalleled timing and tantalizing wit, and Steenburgen’s graceful exuberance. Actresses in the olden days didn’t have the chance to do what they do here. If only they would do it in a better movie.

Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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