It is perhaps a fair assessment that any film which makes Fifty Shades of Grey its cornerstone is at best setting itself a huge challenge and at worst doomed. If we accept the former scenario, Book Club did not rise to the task. As the notorious read is taken on by a friendship group of older women, they are all variously affected and their exploratory urges – sexual and otherwise – are reinvigorated. From this simple premise was extracted a slew of misadventures which were supposed to be endearing, but which quickly became a repetitive irritation. This was undoubtedly because of the stubbornly equal focus on each of the four friends. Whilst their individual stories were different, the theme was identical, and merely played out in a variety of ways.
The movie was often funny, but somehow it felt that this was because it knew how to make the audience laugh. Instead of being genuinely comical, the humour was contrived. This was largely due to the fact that the formulaic jokes were predicated almost exclusively on inconsequential embarrassment. The same applied to the emotionally climactic scenes. Romantic string music would start playing and the camera would centre in on the eyes whilst all the clichés about love and surprising feelings were reeled off. Despite the frequency of such sequences, the interest of the audience (who frequently groaned with exasperation) was not sustained.
In its defence, however, the feature definitely had style. The dialogue was light and snappy, and at all times, Jane Fonda (playing the vivacious Vivian, who originally introduces her friends to Fifty Shades) et al were dressed impeccably. There was a certain feeling of product placement amongst the glossy frivolity – which mainly comprised the four friends sitting around decadent and completely untouched feasts – but it was certainly a treat for the eyes, if not much else.
Having said that, it was very refreshing to have older women as the focal point of the narrative. Their élan was palpable, and actually quite charming. Through their refusal to “be old”, Book Club dealt with issues of ageing and the associated treatment and expectations of elderly people. All of this was done with the lightest of touches, even to the extent that none of it added any real depth. But it’s fine to be simply entertained when watching a film, and shallowness is not the same as emptiness.
Book Club is released nationwide on 1st June 2018.
Watch the trailer for Book Club here: