Book Club

‘Life would be infinitely happier if we could only be born at the age of eighty and gradually approach eighteen.’ – Mark Twain

In the early part of the 1900’s, the phrase ‘Life begins at 40’ was popularised by psychologist Walter Pitkin and solidified in the minds of a generation with the Will Rogers film of the same name. As the German philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer stated, “The first forty years of life give us the text: the next thirty give the commentary.” As we move into the second decade of the 2000s and basing things on recent films, the original quote should be changed to ‘Life begins at 60.’ Book Club builds on this premise of the value of the commentary lived by women who are given new beginnings at life after 60. 

For four friends who have been travelling through the highs and lows of life together for over thirty years, the one constant for them has been their weekly book club. This group has managed to be the therapeutic element during all of the marriages, children, divorces, careers and deaths that have moulded the lives of these influential women. With the mood brought on by the recent passing of Diane’s (Diane Keaton) husband and some of the less than inspiring book choices, Vivian (Jane Fonda) decides to add a bit of spice back into the group by introducing the infamous 50 Shades of Grey trilogy into the mix. 

Despite the initial hesitation from her friends, the four women decide to give the first book a read. The titillating book series has varied effects on all of their relationships and unearth’s feelings that had been buried for years. Vivian must confront her long-lost love and lingering desire for  Arthur (Don Johnson), while Diane has to deal with her overly involved daughters during a secretly burgeoning escapade with Mitchell (Andy Garcia). All the while, their friend Sharon (Candice Bergen) attempts to put herself back ‘on the market’ and Carol (Mary Steenburgen) tries to put the spice back into her marriage with Bruce (Craig T. Nelson). Leading to a series of events that causes all of these sophisticated and successful women to come to terms with love in this season of life. 

With all that being said, Book Club can be summarised by saying these mature women meet for a book club each week and one book series lights a fire in all of their lives. Is this a subtle marketing campaign by E.L. James’ publisher or an excuse to get these four award-winning actresses together for some comedic and romantic fun? It is hard to know, but whatever the initial plan, the two things that this film offers is a statement for women of mature stature that life can start or at least re-start at any stage of life and there is more to relationships than sex. The story does contain a multitude of opportunities for innuendo and some of the jokes do try too hard to be humorous, but it ends up being a forgettable, harmless and surprisingly amusing journey. 

For first-time director Bill Holderman, the key advantage to working with this stellar cast is that despite the weak and unoriginal script, they seem to be having fun on screen. It is a tale of privileged white women that is predictable and relies on a multitude of scenes of talking about the book and relationships over wine, but these actresses show their ability to save a film. Each gag and relational conundrum seem to be taken from other romantic or family comedies which were especially evident when the script utilised a classic Mary Steenburgen scene from Parenthood or the overly awkward plane scene between Keeton and Garcia. 

The direction and writing seem to be below this esteemed cast, but if anything they seemed to be having a ball working together. With the inclusion of the less than tasteful book series, things seem to be a set up for an overly sexualised senior’s tale, but the overall journey does have some merit and provides a few laughs along the way. This film may not be the pinnacle of any of these ladies careers, but it does offer some youthful giggles and a reminder that it is never too late to start living life.

Reel Dialogue: Of all things to talk about from this film: Marriage

Ok,ok… It is a film with 50 Shades of Grey at the heart of it. Scandalous, don’t read the book series, grow up and let’s move on.

Interestingly, this film caused me to see the value of marriage and keeping the spark alive in that relationship. All of the relational elements eventually point back to the value of a monogamous, relationship between a man and woman. How they get there might be a bit confronting and uncomfortable for many people and if so, this is not the film for you. Yet, without them even saying it, the underlying message was about the importance of strong marriages. The widow saw the value of her husband, her children were in good marriages, the divorcee yearned after her lost love and the only married couple did not look outside of their marriage for solutions to marital hardships. They worked together and found the spice that drew them together in the first place. 

Even though this world does not want to admit it, God had a great plan when he created marriage. He wants it to be robust, exciting, romantic, sexual, fulfilling and spiritual. It is all over the Bible, read up on it. If you are struggling in your marriage, the Bible can help you find the answers and if you want some real spice… read Song of Solomon… Whew! There is some great material for a book club!

Where do you go in the Bible to find answers on marriage and sex? 

Genesis 2:24, Proverbs 5:18-19, Proverbs 18:22, Song of Solomon, 1 Corinthians 7:1-40 

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Russell Matthews

Russell loves film and enjoys engaging in discussions about the latest cinema offerings and then connecting this with the Gospel. He has worked for City Bible Forum for over 10 years, is a reviewer for Insights Magazine and Entertainment Fuse and has a blog called Russelling Reviews. He moderates events for Reel Dialogue which connect the film industry with the general public.