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Without looking at precedent to see if it started earlier, for me seeing older actors have a self-awareness that bordered on parody was clarifying for me when Grumpy Old Men came out back in the day. And I've seen various tweaks of the formula through the years, and call me crazy but Book Club seems to have set a new milestone of sorts.
Written and directed by Bill Holderman (A Walk in the Woods), the film follows a quartet of female friends who have known each other for almost a half century. Diane (Diane Keaton, Mama's Boy) is a recent widower who has two kids who are overly protective of her, Vivian (Jane Fonda, This is Where I Leave You) is a hotel owner, Sharon (Candice Bergen, Miss Congeniality) is a well-respected and romantically lonely judge, and Carol (Mary Steenburgen, Elf) has a successful yet passionless marriage. All of this changes when a sassy romance novel enters their lives. The novel? 50 Shades of Grey of course.
So the beauty of Book Club is that the ensemble know the premise is a little pop culture and silly, but they throw themselves into their respective characters in such a way that you go along for the ride. Diane strikes up a friendship with Mitch (Andy Garcia, Godfather Part III), a charming, charismatic airline pilot. Carol tries everything she can do get her husband Bruce (Craig T. Nelson, Get Hard) to bite. Vivian starts to get nostalgic for a former beau named Arthur (Don Johnson, Django Unchained). And Sharon throws herself into the world of online dating, centering around a guy named George (Richard Dreyfuss, Jaws) while wondering why her ex-husband Tom (Ed Begley Jr., Pineapple Express) decided to marry someone MUCH younger.
And you know what? It all feels genuine and honest, and as a result the storylines are charming, even as they throw in a bad joke or two, physical gag or otherwise (look, one of the women has a lot of moisturizer on! Dying! And when another cries and the mascara runs? Funny!). They are in on the joke and go with it. The underlying "carpe diem" message they get from the book has an additional twinge of realization of mortality (Fonda for example, turned 80 during the production), and it deepens the resonance of the book. There is a lot of screentime to go around, but this general theme tends to crystallize with Diane, who wants to be a person and not a chore or a protected commodity.
Book Club takes the whimsy of youth and injects some ownership by a more than talented cast to allow individual vulnerabilities, and the results are pleasant performances and character dynamics, and if you're going to roll your eyes at the initial hook (and you will), the production knows this and comes over the top with simple honest work towards an emotional authenticity that you don't see that often from similar lighthearted films. It's not a memorable film, but an individually voiced one and that's just as special.
The 2.40:1 widescreen transfer of Book Club generally pleases without distracting or dropping jaws. The photoshops of the younger photos of the main cast are so so bad, but maybe that's another subtle general point going for the film that the premise is kind of silly? Lights are blown out in some areas and image noise is present in some moments. However, colors are loyal without oversaturation, flesh tones are accurate and the image is generally devoid of banding or smearing, looking like a straightforward presentation.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless track that doesn't do anything of note, but also doesn't get a lot to do. Dialogue sounds good, and aside from a cop car blaring its siren, or a Meatloaf song in the third act, the disc doesn't get a lot of play overall. Mitch takes Diane on a plane and the whirring briefly flirts with the low end as they go through a canyon, but that may be the closest thing to a dynamic moment of sound it has. It reproduces the soundtrack well, for what it is.
A few extras that were both a) longer than I expected and b) for the most part pleasantly surprising. "It all Started with A Book" (10:56) details the inspiration for the film by Holderman and co-writer Erin Simms, how they got the deal done, and the treatment the story received (sitting in script purgatory at Harvey Weinstein's company) until it was eventually made. It tends to intersperse moments of dialogue in between the interviews which is a little dumb but you get used to it eventually. "Casting Book Club" (13:43) looked at how the actors were landed and their thoughts on one another, while "Location Location Location" (9:48) covered the California backdrop, reasons for using it and some highlight moments where said backdrop is showed off. "A New Chapter" (9:03) looks at the themes of the film with each cast member sharing their opinion on it, along with thoughts on society and friendship. "Living in the Moment" (3:48) covers the Katherine McPhee song at the end of the film and 13 deleted/extended/alternate scenes (11:11) are fine albeit a touch redundant.
I'm not sure what exactly happened to me where I'm going to say these words, but for what it was I truly liked Book Club. It's real, it's subtle and complex, and all involved, and is a nice breath of vitality into the romantic comedy genre for the older set. Technically it's not going to wow you, and the bonus materials include some candor that other ones don't normally include. If you're a certain age you may not like it, but if you know the actresses it's worth taking a look at by all none the less.