Book Club: The Next Chapter Review

Reviews Films




The four 70-something women of BOOK CLUB (2018) return in BOOK CLUB: THE NEXT CHAPTER. Vivian (Jane Fonda), Diane (Diane Keaton) Sharon (Candice Bergen) and Carol (Mary Steenburgen) are still in the book club they established 45 years ago.

The movie begins with the challenge of Covid-19 forcing the quartet to shelter in place and go through the uncertainty of that process. The book club goes on Zoom during this period. When these limits are lifted, the club finally meets in-person and begins talking through Brazilian author Paulo Coelho’s 1988 best seller, The Alchemist. The women who feel they are in something of a rut in their individual lives, take inspiration from the book and decide that a postponed trip to Italy, that they planned in their 20s, should happen, NOW.

Vivian doesn’t want to go because she’s just got engaged to be married, Sharon doesn’t want to leave her cat and so on. Circumstances transpire and before long, the ladies of the book club persuade themselves to make Italy the destination for Vivian’s bachelorette party. So, they’re on their way to vino and la dolce vita in Tuscany, via Rome and Venice.

BOOK CLUB: THE NEXT CHAPTER is, somehow, not even as challenging as the unchallenging original that it springs from. The first movie defined the characters, this movie expects we’re completely across their quirks and foibles, which to be fair, is a standard approach for sequels, but in this case, it means many scenes of senior group-think (they all agree that Italy is beautiful) and not quite enough time focussed on the feelings and emotions of individuals.

There’s a dress-fitting montage in which all the ladies end up drinking and dressing up. This is very much in the sweet-spot for the audience this movie seeks out. There’s a mild attempt to make Fonda look dowdy before the excellent dress she chooses. The film’s actual costume designer Stefano de Nardis stated his mission was to make the wardrobe age-appropriate but avoid the pitfalls of “old-lady vibes”. Such are the obstacles of modern entertainment to a Boomer audience. Interestingly, Keaton’s fashion seems entirely inspired (i.e. ripped off) from how Keaton actually dresses, so nice work, Stefano de Nardis.

There has been some chat on the Internets about a “thin plot” which frankly, is nonsense criticism that reviewers like me like to concoct. Yeah, it’s not ATONEMENT (2007) or GONE GIRL (2014), it’s a road-movie slash romantic comedy with an ensemble cast of veteran actors. The rom-com princes in this piece are Don Johnson, Andy Garcia and Craig T. Nelson, all held over from the first film. The new men on this outing are Hugh Quarshie, playing a retired Brit philosophy professor, Giancarlo Giannini, playing a police chief and Vincent Riotta playing Carol’s old flame from cookery school. These fellas get the requisite amount of screen time to be charming, understanding and low-key romantic.

There are many moments with the four lead actors in hotels, train stations and Italian streetscapes throwing around lines ranging from the tepid to the hilarious. All dirty lines are handled skilfully by Bergen and Fonda. Although, “dirty” is a relative term in a PG-13 movie. Director Bill Holderman who co-wrote with Erin Simms are apparently big fans of Prosecco as it is mentioned several times. Grappa, sadly is only mentioned once.

The film is built on the DNA of movies like UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN (2003) and EAT PRAY LOVE (2010) in which American characters seek to change their lives by opening their hearts to the beauty and romantic wisdom of Europe. The idea being to break with the humdrum present by exposing oneself to a different culture more connected to the truth of human emotions. It’s a storytelling conceit that rarely fails. “We’re too uptight and stressed,” the city-dwelling main characters believe, “those Pacific-Euro-Down-Home-Country Islanders are cool and will teach us how to love again”.

Despite a great cast, this all comes off as somewhat under-powered. The scenes where Fonda Keaton, Bergen and Steenburgen have stronger material, makes you wish the writing was delivering more often.  BOOK CLUB: THE NEXT CHAPTER is funnier than SEX AND THE CITY 2 (2010), but not as amusing as the five episodes of The Golden Girls you’d need to watch, to equal this movie’s running time of 1 hour and 47 minutes.

The original BOOK CLUB made more than US $100 million at the box office on a US $14 million budget. Thus, it was a huge success that earned this sequel. The delay in making this film was the Pandemic. So, like the women of BOOK CLUB: THE NEXT CHAPTER, it’s time you came out to live your life and be entertained in an Italian setting. The movie is an easy watch for those who enjoyed the first film. It is a laid-back, undemanding comedy with actors whose work we’ve enjoyed over the years.

Accessreel Rating: (6/10)

Phil has written for magazines, corporate videos, online ads, and even an app. He writes with one eye on the future, one eye on the past and a third eye on the Lotto numbers. His social bits are here.