Life can certainly get better with age, but Book Club: The Next Chapter proves that isn’t always the case with sequels.
In a recent interview with The New York Times, Diane Keaton described Book Club: The Next Chapter, her latest film and the next chapter (as the title would suggest) in what’s now the Book Club series, as “fine.” “I did what I could, you know, sort of,” the actress continued, in what was intended as a promotional piece. Keaton then, with more noted enthusiasm, talks about tortillas.
Now, who am I to criticize Diane Keaton? The Oscar-winning actress has frontlined no shortage of exceptional films throughout her esteemed career, and the same can also be said about her Book Club co-stars: Jane Fonda, Mary Steenburgen, and Candice Bergen. If she wants to have fun, I say, so be it! Keaton deserves it. But is it not too much to ask one of our greatest actresses to deliver more than just “fine?” Can the standards be raised to “decent,” at least? Or maybe even “good enough?” I’d even settle for “a fun lark” or “amusing fluff.”
Anyway, Book Club: The Next Chapter does not qualify as “fine.” Or even “passable.” Because that would suggest that some worthwhile effort was made. Once again written by husband-wife duo Bill Holderman and Erin Simms, with the former at the helm, this carefree sequel set in Italy wishes to provide viewers of a certain age with a lavish, celebratory girls trip to one of the most beautiful and romantic countries in the world. Especially with the pandemic quite laborously factoring into the plot, as we sit through a seemingly endless barrage of Zoom jokes and quarantine comedy.
Even by its modest standards, it still falls flat.
In case you wanted to be humorously reminded of the global event that killed roughly seven million people, The Next Chapter lightheartedly tries to explore the value of lifelong friends, pleasure-seeking, and never losing your youthful sense of adventure. But its uneven mix of lukewarm jokes and sappy emotionality makes for a tired, unengaging follow-up, relying too heavily on broad sex gags at the expense of a winning heart or vicarious fun. It might not be striving for much, but even by its modest standards, it still falls flat.
After rediscovering their sex drive in the first Book Club following what’s probably the most life-alternating group read of E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey ever, Diane (Keaton), Vivian (Fonda), Carol (Steenburgen), and Sharon (Bergen) have continued to explore themselves (and their bodies) in the midst of rejuvenating their love lives in their twilight years. This all leads to Vivian finally deciding to tie the knot with Arthur (Don Johnson) after decades of insisting that she would never get married.
Excited by the prospect of letting their lifelong friend get the bachelorette party that the 70-something woman never before got to experience, the gal pals fantasize about their long-abandoned trip to Italy and eventually ask themselves, well, why not now? Seemingly undeterred by going to one of the most COVID-ridden countries in the world, the retirees convince themselves to embark on the journey of a lifetime. And in the midst of traveling Bel paese, these four female friends re-learn that the best trips never go according to plan.
Such disappointments would sting less if the comedy sung.
If the goal here was to allow moviegoers to partake in a second-hand odyssey through the heart of one of Europe’s most desired vacation spots, in a narrative framework that’s very, very loosely following Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist, then The Next Chapter shortens itself by extensively featuring its central four leads in front of shoddy green screens.
In fact, the film’s only genuine surprise is seeing behind-the-scenes screenshots of the actors and crew (and Ted Danson) on location during the end credits. While there are some undeniable moments in the motherland, it is often soiled by lackluster camerawork, ho-hum direction, and a boring desire not to explore anything beyond the most tourist-friendly attractions.
But such disappointments would sting less if the movie’s comedy sung. Alas, despite the appealing chemistry of our seasoned pros, this sequel, much like the first, is too content on making bland and predictable cranks at the expense of its elder stars. Because isn’t it hilarious that anyone — especially a woman — over the age of 50 would even think about having sexual intercourse?!?! I mean, the nerve!
The bottom line.
While The Next Chapter is thankfully not quite as slavish to this style of humor as its predecessor, that doesn’t make it any more inspired or any more entertaining to watch. It’s a movie that, as Keaton noted, ultimately plays it far too safe and simple and, well, by the book. To the point where you wonder how much the actresses (particularly Keaton) are really performing here. Is this a movie or simply a paid vacation for four of our most esteemed legacy actresses? I don’t begrudge anyone if it’s the latter, Adam Sandler certainly gets away with it. I merely ask that you make it a bit more fun and engaging for moviegoers in the process.
Compared to 80 for Brady — February’s surprisingly funny, wacky, and endearing movie of the same goals, just about — Book Club: The Next Chapter is yet another stale, treacly addition to what’s becoming an odd comedy genre: four senior citizens get up to horny funny business for sh**s and giggles. While inoffensive and generally unassuming, it ultimately makes you yearn for a movie that had any desire to do anything notable with its four extremely talented actresses.
Similar to the first time around, Bergen proves to be the MVP with her dry, sarcastic wit and blistering stare. But everyone else settles for mediocrity to a depressing degree. It proves, once more, that we need to treat our elder stateswomen of Hollywood (and abroad) much better. For whatever it’s worth, Book Club: The Next Chapter is the first movie to make me long for the cinematic screen presence of Guy Fieri. His supporting turn in the aforementioned Brady is more invigorated than anything here.
Book Club: The Next Chapter is now playing in theaters. Watch the trailer here.
Images courtesy of Focus Features
BOOK CLUB: THE NEXT CHAPTER - 4/10